For most Americans, Thanksgiving week means a short work week, gathering with family and homemade pumpkin pie.
For college basketball fans, it is a cornucopia of riches, as most teams play in annual multi-team events.
Coming off a heartbreaking home loss on a Malachi Smith buzzer-beater against Chattanooga, the VCU Rams (2-2) will spend the holiday break in the Bahamas at the 10th annual Battle 4 Atlantis. The three-day multi-team event includes a strong field of eight competitors, including representatives from each of the “Power 6” basketball conferences.
The event opened at noon Wednesday, with Michigan State tipping off against future Atlantic 10 member school Loyola-Chicago. VCU will open its play in the MTE at 5 p.m. Wednesday against Syracuse.
First up: Syracuse
VCU’s portion of “Feast Week” opens with a challenge against the Syracuse Orange.
Led by legendary head coach Jim Boeheim, the Orange have opened their season 2-1, with the loss coming last Saturday by 15 to Colgate.
Predicted to finish mid-pack in the ACC, the Orange are led by Boeheim’s sons, Buddy and Jimmy. Buddy Boeheim is a dangerous 3-point shooter who has averaged 20 points per game to open the season, while Jimmy is averaging 14 per game in his first season on his father’s team. In addition, Jimmy Boeheim is the team’s leading rebounder, averaging 6.3 boards per game.
Junior guard Joseph Girard III is also a dangerous scoring threat to watch out for. The New York native averages over 19 points per game thus far in 2021. Girard is by far the assists leader of the team, tallying 20 total in three games thus far.
In media availability on Tuesday, Jim Boeheim said VCU is “really, really good defensively.”
“They really get up and down the court. They can come at you with a lot of different defensive looks and attacks, and they’ve got a lot of guys that can attack the basket. They’re a good basketball team,” Boeheim said.
The matchup is key for both programs: Syracuse needs a win to keep pace in a strong ACC, while VCU is looking to avoid dropping below .500 on the year.
According to KenPom, Syracuse is 48th in the nation, with VCU coming up 110th. Per the Caesar’s Sportsbook, Syracuse are five-point favorites heading into the Bahamas.
Look for a relatively even game with two teams that will look to win the game on the defensive end. As with all VCU games so far this season, do not expect much offensive firepower.
Looking ahead: Baylor/Arizona State
VCU will get at least one more Power 5 game out of the MTE this week, when they face either Baylor or Arizona State on Thanksgiving. The winner of that games plays the winner of Syracuse/VCU, while the losers of each game play each other.
There is not much more to be said about Baylor basketball. They are the defending national champions and remain a formidable opponent, despite losing key pieces like Davion Mitchell to the pros. Baylor enters the Bahamas undefeated and ranked 6th in the AP poll.
Arizona State has had a slower go of things, sitting at 2-2 right now. Both of Arizona State’s losses were by two points or less, including a 65-63 loss last Thursday to San Diego State. Arizona State is better than their 2-2 record shows and could easily give Baylor a good run on Wednesday night.
VCU will play a third game on Friday. It would be impossible to forecast who VCU could play, but the other four teams in the Battle 4 Atlantis are Michigan State, Loyola Chicago, Auburn and UConn.
Three quick notes on the Rams
- Through four games, much as the preseason predicted, the leading scorer for VCU is senior forward Vince Williams. Williams’ 10 3-pointers makes up two-thirds of VCU’s team total, while his 43.5% 3-point shooting percentage is by far the leader on the team, aside from freshman Jimmy Nichols who is 1-for-1 from deep. As expected, Williams is the engine for VCU’s offense, even with an offense that has struggled to put up points so far.
- The adage “defense wins championships” is one that the Rams have taken to heart in 2021-22. Despite averaging just under 51 points per game, VCU is not getting outscored badly. In fact, opponents on average outscore VCU by 0.4 points per game. At least until Ace Baldwin returns in January, look for that trend to continue.
- Hason Ward is averaging 3.5 blocks per game, good for 14th in the nation and 3rd in the Atlantic 10 conference. In addition, Ward outpaces the rest of the team in defensive boards and is third in steals. On a team that prides itself on playing tough defense, Ward looks the part of a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
VCU will tip off against the Syracuse Orange at 5 p.m. from Paradise Island in the Bahamas. ESPN2 will have live coverage of the matchup.