VCU will begin their fifth Atlantic 10 tournament journey today and will hope, like the last four, this one ends in another finals appearance. This is VCU’s fourth year playing as the No.2 seed in this event, a potential good omen as every 2-seed has advanced to the final since the Rams joined the conference for the 2012-13 season. The black and gold have been led all season long with the rim-attacking power trio of JeQuan Lewis, Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman and have finally added a healthy De’Riante Jenkins back to the lineup to hopefully bring some balanced shooting back to the group. Here are three keys to what can make Pittsburgh yet another successful Atlantic 10 tournament for Will Wade and his VCU Rams.
1. Finish inside
Will Wade knows his team’s strengths and weaknesses and does a great job of playing to them. That’s why you don’t typically see a ton of threes, but instead a steady diet of Mo Alie-Cox, Justin Tillman and JeQuan Lewis attacking the basket. When they are successful, that is hard to stop and with a 24-7 record, that’s been the case more often than not. VCU’s interior scoring is among the best in the conference thanks to a talented roster that’s taking 43.8% of their shots…at the rim. I repeat: at the rim. Teams who have limited VCU’s production inside have given VCU trouble this year, so in order to win three games in three days the black and gold will need to dominate offensively at point-blank range. If they get hot from distance, well, bonus points.
2. Be the defensive unit VCU has been all season
Does defense win championships? VCU will hope so. The Rams have been a solid offensive unit but butter this team’s bread with a defense that currently ranks second in the A-10 in conference defensive efficiency. VCU has limited A-10 foes to a 46.4% effective field goal percentage that trails only Rhody in conference play, but unlike the Keaney Blue Rams have had a top-two offense as well. When you can defend like VCU has proven they can, you win neutral court games in hockey arenas. VCU needs to bring that same regular season defensive focus and intensity with them to Pittsburgh and ride their own black and gold steel curtain to a ring of their own.
3. Limit turnovers
VCU has done a much better job of limiting turnovers in conference play than outside of it, checking in at fourth in the league with a 17.5% turnover offense. That’s a huge improvement over nights like the Rams 25-turnover effort in an exhibition loss to DII Queens University. Will Wade has told his players that the ball is the program. You have to value the ball and that means being locked in mentally, making the simple play instead of the hero play and making every possession count. Turnovers played a key role in multiple losses for VCU this season (21 versus Georgia Tech, 17 versus Baylor, 22 at Fordham) and they can do the same for the Rams this weekend if they aren’t careful.