Now is not the time to turn our heads, nor is it time to create phony motivation and storylines. This is March and we are in the home stretch. Teams that win in this most beautiful month look in the mirror for those esoteric confidence-builders at the same time they are exploring their inner-selves.
Those two views are entwined and interlocked into a little something called motivation. There is nothing external about it.
So forget St. Louis and forget Ced Lindsay. Forget seeding and byes, Brooklyn and Buffalo, and the Travelocity created by March Madness. For two hours, and maybe more if we have some over-officious whistles tonight, this game is all about VCU and what the Rams bring to the Robins Center. A lack of focus on what we do leads to a loss, and those are always more painful as the weather outside warms.
"It's the Richmond game," said Shaka Smart sthe other day. "Those are the guys on our team that were here last year. They know that we went there last year and didn't get it done, didn't finish the job."
You know what happened last year in that building. Put that in the beaker and warm it with the havoc-branded Bunsen Burner. You want keys to the game? Simple: do VCU things. Attack the glass, cause open court calamity, use style of play at high tide and let it wash over the opponent.
I don't have to tell you that Kendall Anthony (18.5 ppg, 74 made threes) is the guy that scares me the most, and is the head of the Spider Monster. The kid scored 31 points and even the fans in That Animal gave him an ovation when he fouled out of the first game. He's a little 5-8 sparkplug capable of shooting Richmond into big wins. Anthony has a hair-trigger and is very good in transition and the open court. There's a lot of open court in havoc.
Richmond mostly goes seven deep and Anthony has averaged about 38 minutes since Ced Lindsay was injured. He was 2-20 in Richmond's loss to Rhody.
Shawn'Dre Jones (8.7 ppg, 20-46 from three in A10 games) went from scouting report footnote to full-fledged weapon. The diminuitive Jones may be small and a freshman, but he is a confident weapon. Jones is averaging 13ppg in the last five UR games and shooting 25-57 from the field, including 11-23 from three.
Terry Allen (9.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is a star in the making. He's one of those 6-7 tough guys that does a lot well and plays very hard. Allen had a double-double against UMass. Trey Davis (6.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg) is a bit of an X-factor for the Spiders. He is a physical defender and good passer. If he's scoring, Richmond is a different team. Davis is also a supreme rebounder for being 6-5--his aggression is a factor.
Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (4.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg) is a high-quality talent and shot blocker. However he can be pushed around so look for VCU to take it straight at him. Ododa thrives on momentum plays, too, but he hasn't made many in recent weeks. The Rams must bottle him up.
Finally Deion Taylor (4.0 ppg, 40% three-point shooter) stands 6-7 but is all finesse and isn't much of a defender. Taylor is like Ododa in that VCU cannot let him get going because he can hit double-figures with a couple threes in a jiffy.
Wayne Sparrow (3.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg) plays hard and is a better shooter than his stats would suggest. He makes hustle plays to set up others, but VCU cannot forget about him.
Sum It Up, Knucklehead
The Spiders are not a large team, both in height and girth. Neither Anthony nor Jones hit 72 inches on the tape, and the Richmond big men are not going to participate in the World's Strongest Man competition.
It's critical for VCU to play aggressive and physical basketball--attack the glass, blow up ballscreens, drive to the lane, dish to a big man sitting down on the block. Those kinds of concrete-moving actions will be a key to the game.
I don't know that I'm buying into the fatigue angle anymore, so VCU will have to disrupt and frustrate Richmond: open court traps and deflections, and interior, shall we say, presence. That kind of relentless defensive execution is what wears on an opponent, not necessarily the physical fatigue. It's one part jackhammer, and one part sledgehammer
It's vital to cut the head off the monster--in this case it's limiting Anthony's looks and guarding the three-point line. Easier said than done, but what you need to watch for is the number of midrange jumpers the Spiders will take. The more they hoist from 15 feet the better it is for the Rams.
And to tie it all together: note that not one word has anything to do with external motivation. That comes from inside the VCU locker room, and inside the VCU players.
Final side note: a victory tonight means VCU ends the regular season undefeated against the Commonwealth of Virginia. UVa, Old Dominion, and Virginia Tech were all put down in the noncon. And a win over George Mason and two over the Spiders brings the ledger to 6-0 against in-state teams.
What's more, a victory tonight coupled with a win Saturday against Bonnies means VCU will finish the regular season 18-0 in games played on Virginia soil.
Do what you wish with that stat.