It’s no secret that VCU hasn’t been on its game this season. Though the Rams have had one of the toughest non-conference schedules of all the teams in the Atlantic 10, they have been unable to pull out a victory over a solid opponent. They haven’t suffered a bad loss but haven’t gotten a good win either. VCU’s 5 losses have come at the hands of Duke, Wisconsin, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Cincinnati. There are likely 4 tournament teams in that bunch, so its not like the Rams have lost game to easy opponents, but four out of the five of these losses were by 10 points points or less. The Rams have come so close but have been unable to pull ahead and get a resume-building win.
Now heading into conference play, here’s a look at some things that VCU will need to do in order to reassert itself in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid. With VCU in March, we know the slipper tends to fit, but Cinderella has to make it to the ball first.
1. Melvin Johnson Needs to Continue Being the Stud That He Is
Without Melvin Johnson in the lineup, VCU doesn’t even come close in some of these games that it’s lost this season. He was a huge reason that the Rams stuck around with Duke and almost beat Wisconsin as well, averaging 20.5 points in the 2k Classic. Though VCU was unable to take down Florida State, Melvin Johnson’s 36 points certainly kept things interesting for the entirety of the game. Even when the Rams don’t win, Johnson is a key proponent in giving them a chance to win. When he doesn’t show up, things can go south very quickly. Johnson struggled with his stroke against Georgia Tech, shooting just 6 of 17 from the field, and the Yellow Jackets took a commanding 77-64 win over the Rams. VCU was more than capable of taking down Cincinnati, but Johnson went 0-11 from the field, and the Rams fell short once again.
Needless to say, Melvin Johnson is ONE of the key components to a Rams victory. I can’t say that he’s all they need considering the fact that they’ve still lost even when he’s had great performances. Though it takes a team effort to beat tournament-level competition, it starts with the best player on the floor, and that player is undoubtedly Melvin Johnson.
2. Crash the Boards
If you take a look at the 5 losses that the Rams have suffered this season, you’ll notice a trend: VCU gets outrebounded every single time. Their rebounding margin for those 5 games is -31; in a game that’s decided by less than 10 points, an extra possession or two can be the difference in who comes out on top. The interesting part about this stat is that VCU is actually +6 on the offensive glass in these 5 losses, meaning that its opponents are pulling down significantly more boards on the defensive end; this points to VCU’s shooting as the culprit.
In each of these 5 games, VCU has shot worse from the field than its opponent. If the Rams want to have a positive rebounding margin overall, it needs to either make more shots, or grab a load of boards on the offensive glass. It usually comes down to VCU finding the right guy to shoot the basketball. In the Georgia Tech game, Doug Brooks continued taking contested shots even though it clearly wasn’t his night from the floor. Finding better shots for the right players will lead to more baskets and better numbers on the glass.
3. Who’s Going to Step Up?
VCU can’t be a one-man team; Melvin Johnson cannot do it all. The Rams need to find another player who they can consistently rely on for offensive and defensive intensity. So far, the Rams have seen flashes of good performances, but they have yet to have someone step up and take the reins as the number two guy. Korey Billbury has actually been pretty good in that role recently. He’s the second leading scorer with 11.9 points per game, but he hasn’t played all that great in the games VCU has lost.
Players like JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox have really struggled for the Rams recently. The two went just 3 of 13 and turned the ball over a combined 7 times in VCU’s loss to Georgia Tech. Lewis is really important for the Rams in setting up his teammates with good shots. Their leader in assists needs to force turnovers rather than commit them himself. The bottom line is that VCU has seen flashes of good play from Lewis, Billbury, and Alie-Cox, but all three will need to step up and play better overall if the Rams want to make the NCAA Tournament this season.