Allrighty then, we have to get this out of the way, from the jump.
I refuse to let the events of March 7, 1988 seep into my being and create angst on an otherwise ideal evening. I will not curse Byron Dinkins and Dan Plondke. Jeff Mullins is a name that will be spoken with a smile. I will not jump from the visage of these fine gentlemen to that bandbox on campus facility at UConn.
You remember it well. You remember if you were in the Richmond Coliseum that night, that awful night, that night where VCU played well but was beaten by a team that played a near-flawless final stanza, that night where elation was replaced by deflation, that night that still stings.
You know the game. You remember every stinking moment of those final eight minutes.
Now that I've failed that goal inside of four seconds, let's turn our attention to the 2013 matchup between Charlotte and VCU.
The Niners (5-3, 17-5) play defense. And not just defense, but sloggy, sludgy, painful, physical, make-you-uncomfortable defense. Charlotte's opponents are making 42% of their twos and 31% of their threes. They get after you (11.8% steal rate is 21st nationally) and they pound you on the glass (35.6% offensive rebound percentage is 66th).
Pretty, they ain't. Effective, they most certainly are. These Niners are the A10s Honey Boo-Boo.
Trouble for Charlotte is the other end of the floor. They can't shoot from three (25.9% is 342nd) nor the foul line (64.5% is 301st). The Niners turn the ball over on 21.8% of its possessions (253rd). It's almost as if they guard themselves.
Side note: wait a doggone minute. Tough defenders. Strong rebounders. Can't shoot. Now where have I heard that before?
I expect a rock fight of the highest magnitude. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 71-64 VCU win, with the Rams holding a 73% chance of winning the game by any margin.
- Charlotte point guard Pierria Henry originally verbally committed to VCU but backed out and ended up with the Niners.
- Charlotte is 4-0 in conference home games, beating Lasalle, Fordham, Xavier, and UMass.
- Leading scorer DeMario Mayfield was suspended indefinitely by the program prior to their victory over UMass.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
1. Ride Around The Side, And Flank Them. It's a given that Charlotte plays physical, demanding halfcourt defense. Fine. I have no doubt and no concern when the Niners shut down VCUs first attempt to drive into the paint, or deny a pass to Juvonte Reddic. However I'm looking for the success rate of that second and third drive. Just like offense facing the never-ending VCU press in fullcourt, I want to see if Charlotte's defense can handle never-ending attacking of the basket for full shot clocks.
2. He Takes A Licking And Keep On Ticking. This is all Melle Mel Johnson. Shaka Smart has said in recent days that Johnson is practicing well and is a smart basketball player. Those are the traits that earn playing time. Charlotte is big and strong and will knock around the freshman when he gets into the lane for one of those floaters. I want to see Johnson's percentage from there, and if he keeps attacking. Johnson is also 1-16 from three in conference games, which I want to see change. In short: Melvin Johnson is going to have a breakout game at some point. Everyone can see it coming. Will it be Saturday?
3. No One Comes Into Our House And Pushes Us Around. Charlotte likes to drive the basketball, and we went over VCUs effectiveness when getting in the paint and to the rim. Who is getting open 10-foot jumpers? Who is playing ball screens better? Who is gaining the offensive rebounding advantage? Those things will matter greatly in this game, because it flashlights who is dictating their style.
4. The Lions In Their Dens, They Tremble At His Approach. More Patton, and I'm looking for exactly that. It's been one full week since the ball went into the air and they kept score. I don't know if a fast start is as important as a explosive start. I want to see slobber on chins, venom in eyes, and ego in body language from the tip. I'll take a couple charging calls, fouls called inside traps, and a tie game if VCU sends six clear messages in the game's first five minutes. The big message: the next 35 minutes are going to be the longest 35 minutes of your season.
5. If It Gets Hot and Hectic, I Know They'd Be Electric. The assist-to-turnover ratio in conference games, combined, for Rob Brandenberg and Briante Weber is 26/23. In nonconference games, that number soars to 83/39. I'm not even as concerned about the turnover number as I am the assist number, because that means Rob/Bri are helping to facilitate the offense. Charlotte is very balanced, and as odd it sounds, VCU needs to match that balance.
We Don't Work For Free
Note: all statistics quoted are from A10 games unless noted otherwise. We're eight games into the conference season and that provides "like" competition. This is a better feel for impact players--nonconference schedule strength varies, and teams have rounded into form by conference play. Simply--it's a truer number.
In the absence of Mayfield, a balanced Charlotte attack has set the playground see-saw at 50/50. Lots of contributors--very Lehigh-ish once CJ McCollum went down.
Pierria Henry (10.6ppg, 5.6rpg, 2.0apg, 3.8tpg) is a big, physical point guard (6-4, 200lbs) who uses that strength to get into the lane and create easy shots for himself. He scored 14, dished out nine assists, and had five steals and six turnovers last night against Temple. Henry is also a top-flight defender both on the ball and in passing lanes.
Chris Braswell (9.0ppg, 4.8rpg) is a skilled 6-9 post who can play out to the three-point line (9-34). Braswell fights hard for position on the blocks, and scored 23 against Temple last night.
E. Victor Nickerson (5.4ppg, 2.6rpg) is another great A10 name, and a versatile 3/4 man with a scorer's mentality and a solid in-between game. In Charlotte's first game without Mayfield, Nickerson led them in scoring with 12 points.
Willie Clayton (7.2ppg, 7.4rpg) is a good looking, 6-7 freshman. Clayton is a high energy bruiser on the block who gets four offensive rebounds per game.
Denzel Ingram (4.6ppg, 1.0rpg, 1.0apg) is Charlotte's best three-point shooter (21-60 on the year), which is a little like being the best chef at McDonald's. Ingram is the kind of guy VCU cannot let get going.
Darion Clark (7.2ppg, 4.0rpg) is the alter ego to Clayton. He is also physical in the post and a glass-crasher. End game note: Clark is a terrible free throw shooter (25-63, 39.7% for season).
Terence Williams (6.7ppg, 2.9rpg) is a 6-4 combo guard who plays "close to the basket." He is 2-29 from three on the year. That's 6.9%. Williams is slow on defense.
JT Thompson (4.8ppg, 2.8rpg) is a Virginia Tech transfer who has a good feel for the game. Thompson made his first start for Charlotte in the UMass game and scored 12 points.
Worth noting: Ivan Benkovic has been a bit player and plays very little defense, but scored 10 points in the UMass game after scoring seven total points combined in the 15 previous games. Benkovic hit three threes in that game.
It's going to be a George Patton special. An Old Blood and Guts kind of victory. As mentioned above, a true rock fight.
Here's what's weird...last night against Temple, the Niners were not themselves. Temple scored 89 points and shot 53% from the field. However Charlotte shot 58% from the floor, made seven of 10 threes, and scored 88 points.
Of note as we harken back to a post from earlier this week--Charlotte scored 44 points in the paint.
All of that, in my mind, adds up to a style of play issue at hand. VCU has to get the game going in its pace, tempo, and beauty. Charlotte isn't necessarily conditioned to play at havoc pace for 40 minutes--the bane of big guys, underclassmen, and pick-and-pop shooters.
Defensively, the Rams have to throw rocks in the halfcourt. Post defense and stopping drives is important. Live ball turnovers is a stat I will keep, as well as fast break points.
Again, the prettier the better.