We are less than one week away from flipping the calendar to 2021. With that, college basketball programs are preparing for the most important time of the season: conference play.
In conference play, tournament resumes for the top-tier teams in a mid-major like the Atlantic 10 are put on the line. With the top schools separating themselves over the last few weeks, the goal now is to get out of A10 play generally unscathed and secure the automatic bid that comes with a conference championship in March.
VCU has far exceeded expectations. Having lost six major stars to graduation or transfer, coach Mike Rhoades and his young squad were picked to finish ninth in the conference.
Since then, the Rams have proven those rankings wrong. Apart from a scare against James Madison University on Tuesday, VCU has won handedly against opponents worse than them. Their two losses are the definition of good losses: a neutral loss to a West Virginia team currently ranked #7 in the nation and a road loss to Penn State on a buzzer-beating contested 3-pointer.
All in all, Ram fans must be pleased with where the program sits heading into conference play. Here’s a look at VCU’s season so far, by the numbers:
46.7%- Vince Williams’ 3PT%
Heading into this season, Vince Williams had one real knock on his skillset: he was not a reliable 3-point shooter. The junior forward has clearly been working on that part of his game, making 14 3-pointers in his first nine games at the highest percentage of anyone on the team. Williams’ 30 attempts also rank second on the team, behind Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland’s 75. Through nine games, Williams is on the cusp of a breakout season with career highs in minutes played, points per game, rebounds and assists.
5.7- Ace Baldwin’s Assists Per Game Average
Adrian “Ace” Baldwin arrived on campus with considerable hype. A three-star recruit out of Baltimore, Maryland, Baldwin took over as starting point guard with the departure of Marcus Evans. Baldwin has met these lofty expectations in the most important position in Rhoades’ offense by his exceptional passing. Sometimes it seems Baldwin makes the impossible look easy, effortlessly finding the right players to create scoring opportunities. While the 6’0 guard is not a huge scoring threat, Baldwin did register his first career double-double against JMU on Tuesday. VCU fans can only expect Baldwin’s play to continue to improve throughout conference play and over his VCU career.
18.2- Bones Hyland’s Points Per Game Average
Bones Hyland is appointment television. Something exciting is bound to happen every time he has the ball. It feels he enters his range when he crosses the half-court stripe. Hyland has two 30-point games this season, the first by a Ram in over 2 years. Hyland’s 29 3-pointers are tied for ninth in the country, while only Williams shoots 3-pointers at a higher percentage for VCU. In addition, his scoring average far outpaces his teammates. The Rams will seemingly go as far as Hyland will carry them, and the preseason Atlantic 10 Third Team selection has made a solid case for conference Player of the Year.
57- VCU’s KenPom Ranking (through Dec. 26)
VCU is second in the A10 in KenPom ranking, trailing 30th-ranked Saint Louis. In a season that many, including myself, dubbed a rebuilding year, VCU has shown that they are ready for primetime. Having built a solid resume, VCU seemingly needs to avoid minefields in A10 play to secure a March Madness bid. The goal now is to keep the positive momentum going and to continue to exceed expectations.
18.33- Turnovers Forced Per Game by VCU
VCU has branded itself as a defensive menace of a team through the years. In 2020, it seems that elements of Havoc have returned to VCU. The Rams have forced more turnovers than any other team in the conference and rank 27th in the country in turnovers forced per game. A VCU game is a defensive masterclass, with strong defensive performances throughout the roster. On the season, Tre Clark leads the Rams with 20 total steals, although four VCU players have recorded double-digit steals thus far.
9- Games Played by VCU
This season, the maximum number of non-conference games that a team can play is nine. VCU met that maximum with the game against JMU, which replaced a canceled game against LSU. In a year where schedules are fluid and games can be canceled at any time, the fact that VCU has played nine games is a minor miracle. VCU fans are lucky that the Rams have avoided a major stoppage and have had minimal scheduling issues. With nine opportunities to showcase their talent, the Rams can only benefit from the added experience and exposure.
VCU ended conference play with a 7-2 record. The Rams are scheduled to open conference play at noon Wednesday against Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks have opened their season 0-5, including three losses to ranked opponents.
*Featured image via vcuathletics.com*