December 30, 2011
AKRON, Ohio – VCU and Akron have met four times in the last five seasons, but the schools once went 28 years between meetings. It could be a long time before they play again.
Both coaches, Shaka Smart of VCU and Keith Dambrot of Akron, confirmed the series would not be continued any time soon. It’s not bad blood that will keep these two programs at a distance, it’s quite the opposite.
Smart served as an assistant under Dambrot at Akron from 2004-06 and helped resurrect a program that had slid into irrelevance during the final days of the Dan Hipsher era in Zip-land. Smart and Dambrot remain close friends today and talk several times a week. That’s what made this game, as well as Smart’s previous contest with Dambrot and Akron at the Verizon Wireless Arena in 2010 (also a VCU win), so difficult.
Dambrot said after Thursday’s barnburner that Smart is “like my brother” and that the VCU coach was his “biggest basketball confidante”. Dambrot also revealed that he cried when he learned that VCU had upset Kansas last year to reach the Final Four.
December 30, 2011
Special thanks goes out to “Mistachill” for uploading this video from Thursday night’s win over Akron. Hopefully the FCC won’t be waiting on my porch when I get home. It’s the final 1:10 or overtime. Skip to 6:00 of the video for the final play.
December 30, 2011
AKRON, Ohio – Sophomore Rob Brandenberg rolled his left ankle in practice Wednesday, and his status, although not publicly released, was up in the air prior to Thursday’s 76-75 win at Akron.
It was an important game for both Brandenberg and VCU. The Rams’ shooting guard is from Gahanna, Ohio, about two hours from Akron, and a large contingent of friends and family would be in attendance. Meanwhile, VCU was playing a tough road game in a packed arena. If Brandenberg couldn’t play or would be severely restricted, it would be a significant setback for the Rams.
Although he did not start, Brandenberg played 23 critical minutes and provided several key buckets to spark the VCU win. He finished with 11 points and hit 4-of-6 shots from the field. A 6-foot-3 guard, Brandenberg could be seen wincing on occasion, but his play did not look like that of a guy with a bum wheel.
It turns out was a good reason for that.
VCU’s strength and training staffs have, of late, subscribed to the treatments of Dick Hartzell and Dr. Michael Shimmel, who co-authored “Don’t Ice That Ankle Sprain!”. Hartzell and Shimmel write, in part, that icing an ankle actually impedes the healing process. Instead, they use a series of stretches and range of motion exercises with an elastic stretch band, which they claim greatly reduce recovery time. When Darius Theus rolled an ankle earlier this season, the Rams’ training staff used those methods at halftime to get Theus back in the game.
Hartzell is a Youngstown, Ohio native, while Shimmel resides in Stow, just miles from the University of Akron campus. VCU Strenght and Conditioning Coach Daniel Roose remembered that the duo were Northeast Ohio natives and managed to contact Shimmel Wednesday night via e-mail. Shimmel volunteered to come to VCU’s hotel Thursday to run Brandenberg through an hour’s worth of treatments prior to the Rams’ game, free of charge. The rest is history, and there will probably be a VCU sweatshirt in Shimmel’s mailbox in the near future.
When I caught up with Brandenberg after Thursday’s game, he confirmed that Shimmel’s work allowed him to get back into playing condition.
“It definitely made a difference,” Brandenberg said.
December 30, 2011
AKRON, Ohio – VCU freshman Briante Weber turned 19 Thursday, but he wasn’t the only Ram grew up a little bit on this night. The whole VCU team, complete with the blessings and curses of youth, walked out of Akron’s Rhodes Arena with a little more of an upperclassman’s swagger Thursday night.
Darius Theus’ baseline layup with 2.7 seconds left gave the Rams a heart pounding 76-75 win over a quality Akron team. It was a game that the Rams, at times, looked like they had no business winning, but did. When everything went wrong, VCU still found a way. This was a gut-check game. It’s type of win that’s exciting at the time, but will be even more valuable down the road.
“For our players, this is something that we can put in our back pocket and use in January and February,” said VCU Coach Shaka Smart. “Because we’re going to be on the road in league play, in similar environments against similarly talented teams and we’re going to have to find ways to win games that are not necessarily pretty.”
December 29, 2011
Dec. 29, 2011 – Akron, Ohio
2011-12 Record: 7-5 (0-0 MAC)
2011-12 RPI: 135
2010-11 Record: 23-13 (9-7 Mid American Conference)
Guy you’ll want to heckle: Zeke Marshall, 7-0, Jr., F (11.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.9 bpg)
The skinny: In addition to the 6-foot-8 Nikola Cvetinovic (9.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Marshall returns to an imposing frontcourt for the Zips, who won the MAC Tournament Championship last season. The Zips eventually put a scare into Notre Dame before falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Marshall scored five points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked four shots in that game, but was just 2-of-13 from the floor.
The Zips do own a quality win over a ranked Mississippi State squad, but have fallen short in non-conference tests against top-100 teams Duquesne, Cleveland State, Middle Tennessee State and West Virginia. Statistically speaking, Akron rebounds the ball well (+3.8 rpg) and turns it over in 17.5 percent of its offensive possessions, slightly lower than the national average.
This will also be an emotional match-up for Shaka Smart, who will be facing former mentor Keith Dambrot for the second time in three years. Smart was an assistant on Dambrot’s staff from 2004-06.
About Akron: Founded in 1870, Akron boasts an enrollment of more than 29,000. Akron is regarded as a world leader in polymer research. You learn something new every day.
Fast fact: This contest is the return game from the 2010 ESPNU BracketBusters. These schools once went 38 years between games, but this will be the fourth match-up between VCU and Akron in five seasons. VCU is 5-0 all-time against the Zips. Next year Akron will be moving into the CAA-Midwest Division.
You know who has the No. 9 album in the country right now? Akron’s own Black Keys.
December 27, 2011
In one dizzying 54-second stretch, it was obvious how much Darius Theus had grown into his role as VCU’s point guard and playmaker.
It was Dec. 4 and the Rams were watching a huge lead disintegrate against George Washington. The Rams’ 19-point advantage had been whittled to 62-56 with less than five minutes left. Momentum had shifted decidedly in the Colonials favor. It was at that moment that Briante Weber found Theus in the corner for a 3-pointer. Theus entered the game as an 18-percent career 3-point shooter, but neither player hesitated.
On the Rams’ ensuing possession, Theus darted past a defender and to the rim, scoring the bucket in traffic while drawing the foul. George Washington never recovered and the Rams cruised to a 75-60 victory.
Two plays do not a season make, but Theus that sequence showcased the junior’s impressive growth as he moves into the role of floor general for the Rams this season. After backing up Joey Rodriguez for two years, Theus is averaging 7.9 points and 4.7 assists a game, both career highs. Through 12 games, Theus’ 49 percent shooting from the field was a marked improvement over his 39 percent career average. While his statistical gains imply improved physical skills, the 6-foot-3 Portsmouth, Va. native says his success begins with his mental approach to the game.
December 22, 2011
UNC GREENSBORO SPARTANS
2011-12 Record: 2-10
2010-11 Record: 7-24 (6-12 Southern Conference)
2010-11 RPI: 294
Guy you’ll want to heckle: Trevis Simpson, So., G/F (15.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
The skinny: UNC Greensboro’s 2011-12 season got off to such a terrific start that Head Coach Mike Dement got the ax last week. On Dec. 14, 28-year-old Wes Miller was named interim head coach. A former player at James Madison and North Carolina, Miller is the youngest Division I coach in the country.
The good news for UNCG is that sophomore Trevis Simpson is an outstanding athlete with a 42-inch vertical leap. He leads four scheduled returning starters for a team that had just one senior last year.
The bad news for UNCG is that those returnees are the same guys that gave up 81 points a game last season. The Spartans ranked 331st in the country in scoring defense in 2010-11. Dement couldn’t get the defense squared away this year, which helped send him to the golf course. The Spartans are giving up 77 points this season. Their opponents are shooting a nearly-inconceivable .499 this year.
The even worse news is that Greensboro is averaging 15.9 turnovers a game (havoc, anyone?) and shooting .374 from the field.
About UNC Greensboro: UNC Greensboro was a women’s college from 1891 to 1963.
Fast fact: J.B. Tanner, a graduate assistant for VCU last season, is UNCG’s director of operations. So be nice, okay?