RICHMOND, Va. – It’s a simple game plan, really. Possess the ball more than the other guy and you’re going to win a lot of games. I don’t know of anyone who tracks time of possession in college basketball, but I feel confident VCU would be highly ranked.
That’s why the Rams (5-3) press teams to death. It’s to force hurried passes, poor decisions and white-knuckle moments for the opposition. It’s because it creates more scoring chances for the Rams and fewer for the other guy. It’s something VCU does exceedingly well.
Take Saturday’s 75-65 win over Belmont (5-2), for example. The Rams dissected the Bruins the last 13 minutes of the first half. Belmont turned it over 17 times during that stretch, and the Rams staged a 26-3 run as a result on the way to an 18-point halftime lead. Overall, the Rams scored 27 points off turnovers in the game.
As valuable as those extra opportunities were, it was the bonus possessions created by the Rams’ 16 offensive rebounds that were the difference in the game. VCU outscored Belmont 17-4 on second-chance points Saturday, many of them on point-blank putbacks around the basket.
It wasn’t entirely unexpected. The Bruins don’t have any regulars in their rotation over 6-foot-7. Belmont coach Rick Byrd tried 6-11, 275-pound widebody Chad Lang for about three minutes in the first half before the Rams threatened to run him off the floor on a stretcher.
While VCU was able to capitalize on its size advantage Saturday, its effort on the glass was no aberration. The Rams have now outrebounded six of their eight opponents this year and have been outrebounded just once (Missouri).
It’s notable because while turnovers, 3-pointers and energy have been strengths of VCU Coach Shaka Smart’s teams the last few years, rebounding has not. VCU’s plus-4.1 rebounding margin this year is the Rams’ best in four seasons under Smart. In 2010-11, the Rams were outrebounded by an average of 4.1 per game. Last year, they were minus-1.8 on the glass. Some of that was because the Rams take more shots than their opponents, but not all of it. The Rams ranked ninth in the CAA last year in defensive rebounding percentage (.661). The year before, they were 11th in the CAA (.636).
But this year, with much of the same personnel, the Rams are crashing the glass better than at any point during Smart’s tenure. Heading into last night’s game, VCU had grabbed 69 percent of its opponents’ misses, second best in the Atlantic 10.
Junior forward Juvonte Reddic has led the Rams on the boards all year and did so again against the Bruins. The 6-9 Reddic grabbed nine boards, including four on the offensive end. He’s seen VCU’s maturation from a below-average rebounding team two years ago to this year’s much-improved incarnation.
“It’s nothing that we’re doing differently,” said Reddic, who is averaging a team-best 8.6 rebounds per game this season. “The past few years we’ve always had that mentality of going to the glass, but this year it’s always seeming to work out for us. It seems it’s going our way. Every game, Coach Smart just tells us you need to gang rebound, which means everybody puts a body on a man and get that rebound…since I’ve been here this year’s probably the best [that] guys have been doing that.”
Smart believes Reddic holds the key to the Rams’ success on the glass.
“We work on it the same, we always have,” Smart said. “I think Juvonte Reddic, if he wants to, can be one of the best rebounders around. That helps. It’s like when we had Larry [Sanders]. When the ball was up high in the sky and Larry decided he wanted to go get it, he was getting it. Ju’s getting close to that point. He’s just got to decide he wants it.”
Defensive rebounds are one thing, but offensive rebounds often lead to easy buckets. Heading into Saturday’s game, the Rams were grabbing nearly 39 percent of available offensive boards, a major improvement from 2010-11 (.308) and 2011-12 (.334). Of 37 available offensive rebounds Saturday, VCU grabbed 43 percent of them. VCU’s work on the glass has yielded an average of 14.1 second-chance points per game this year, compared to 9.9 for the Rams’ opponents.
Sorry, was that too much math?
All you need to know is that in addition to VCU’s proclivity for forcing turnovers, it’s also grabbing more rebounds, offensive and defensive, than at any time under Smart. That means the Rams are in possession the ball a lot more than the opposition. On Saturday, it translated to 10 more field goal attempts, 16 more free throws and one more quality win than Belmont.