Through 18 games, VCU has gone from being predicted to finish ninth in the Atlantic 10 to battling for the regular season title.
Underrated in VCU’s success is junior forward Vince Williams, who has quietly built a case as the conference’s most improved player.
Williams has put together a campaign that makes him among the most valuable pieces on a roster that CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein said was “a year ahead” of expectations. With league-leading St. Bonaventure on tap for this evening, Williams’ elevated game is even more important to the Rams’ overall success.
Through 18 games, Williams ranks second on the team in points per game (10.9) and minutes per game (28.3). Both marks trail only Bones Hyland, who is a frontrunner for conference player of the year.
A deeper dive into those 10.9 points per game tell Williams’ real story. Williams is connecting on 43.3% of his 3-point attempts, almost 20% higher than his career-best season. His 29 made 3-pointers, second behind Hyland, dwarf the 12 career 3-pointers he entered with this season. When Williams gets a clean look from behind the arc, it feels almost automatic.
Williams has always shown flashes of excellence. In my season preview back in the fall, I noted that Williams is the kind of player that does many things well on the floor. Despite this, his renaissance from behind the 3-point mark has come as a welcome surprise to many, as it clears up one of his largest faults from before this season.
Williams is averaging career-highs in points, assists and rebounds. In addition, Williams is third in the A10 in 3-point field goal percentage, another testament to how he has elevated his game this season. Williams also ranks 21st in steals, averaging 1.2 steals per game. All in all, Williams is proving why he has the reputation of being like a Swiss Army knife on the floor.
With a tough contest against the Bonnies on the horizon, Williams enters with a boatload of positive momentum. In Tuesday’s victory against Dayton, Williams put up a career-high 19 points, tied with Hyland for the team high. Williams also made a career-high five 3-pointers. The Toledo, Ohio native got off to a hot start in his home state, scoring 13 of his 19 points before the halftime break.
VCU’s forwards, including Williams, were without the help of senior forward Corey Douglas, who was nursing an ankle injury suffered in practice. Head coach Mike Rhoades said after the game that Douglas should be available on Friday night against the Bonnies.
It will be all-hands on deck for the Rams against St. Bonaventure. Williams will need to play at his new elevated level to match the play of St. Bonaventure’s forwards, namely star Osun Osunniyi. Osunniyi ranks second in the conference in blocks, fourth in rebounds and 13th in field goal percentage.
With first place on the line, Ram fans have to feel comfortable with their offense heading into the contest, namely from the unlikeliest of 3-point sharpshooters.
Edit (2/12/2021): An earlier version of this story erroneously said the A10 does not give out a Most Improved Player award. The A10 does in fact have that award (George Mason’s A.J. Wilson won it in 2020). The lede has been corrected, and I apologize for the error. -JB