VCU is no stranger to playing the role of Cinderella. Back in 2011 Coach Shaka Smart led the Rams from the first four all the way to the Final Four. This year VCU is heating up just in time to be primed to make another Final Four run. Due to a mid-season tumble, however, Smart’s club may once again be considered a Cinderella team.
After losing three of four in February to NCAA tournament hopefuls Saint Joe’s, No. 10 St. Louis and Massachusettes, the Rams were considered NIT-bound by many critics. Smart has since righted the ship, however, and the club has piled up three straight victories over Fordham, conference leader St. Louis and crosstown rival Richmond. The recent win streak has VCU sitting at 23-7 overall and 11-4 in Atlantic 10 play, good enough for 2nd place, just one game behind the Billikens.
The Rams showed the rest of the Atlantic 10, as well as the nation, what they are made of in their March 1 dispatching of St. Louis. Following a 19-point thrashing of cellar-dweller Fordham, VCU put the clamps on the conference leaders with Smart’s “Havoc” press. The tactic forced Coach Jim Crews’ squad into nine first half turnovers and a 10-point deficit that the Billikens never recovered from.
”In the first half…we turned it over a little too much. It was tough to get traction,” Crews said.
VCU was able to keep St. Louis from gaining any traction by out-hustling the Billikens. They held a 14-8 advantage on the offensive glass as well as a 12-3 advantage in steals. The loss was the first road defeat of the season for St. Louis (10-1), who had been tied with Wichita State as the only two programs in the nation with unblemished road records. With the win VCU was able to keep its home record perfect at 14-0.
”For us, it’s a good win, Smart said. “We feel good about the progress we’ve made, but we’ve still got to get better.”
If VCU continues to heat up the floor with the hustle plays, as it did against St. Louis, then Smart definitely has the squad poised for another run at the Final Four. The Rams close out the regular season at home against the 6-9 Bonnies of St. Bonaventure, the only team in the Atlantic 10 that they have not played yet this season. A win coupled with a St. Louis loss to Massachusetts would ensure VCU of a share of the Atlantic 10 title.
Along with their highly sought after young phenom coach, Smart, the Rams are led by Guard Treveon Graham, a 6-6 junior out of Maryland and Forward Juvonte Reddic, a 6-9 senior from North Carolina. Graham leads the club with 15.5 points per game followed by Reddic’s 12.5. Reddic leads the team in rebounds with 8.3 per game while Graham is second with an average of 7.1. The junior-senior combo have started all 30 contests for VCU. Reddic is a projected second round pick in this year’s NBA draft while Graham will have to turn heads with a productive tournament and senior year to earn a spot in the 2015 NBA draft.
The Rams have proven that they will be a tough out for anybody come tournament time. The club , for example, went 3-1 against the powerhouse ACC this year, and that includes a victory over conference leader No.5 Virginia and a 30-point drubbing of Virginia Tech. Smart has them heating up at just the right time, and it is very possible that VCU just might make another run at the Final Four.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika