BACK TO BASICS: STETSON NOTEBOOK

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Juvonte Reddic led all players with 20 points Wednesday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Juvonte Reddic said it was about getting back to basics. If he meant, basically running Stetson out of the gym, then Wednesday night was mission accomplished for VCU, which dismantled the Hatters 92-56 at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

In their first game back from the rugged Battle 4 Atlantis, the Rams looked like a baseball player who spent the weekend swinging a bat with a weighted donut, only to remove it in time for Wednesday’s game. VCU unloaded on the overmatched Hatters (2-3), dominating every facet of the game. If not for VCU’s dreadful 3-point shooting (5-of-22), the Hatters would be wearing their Stetsons much lower on their way back to Florida.

After a 1-2 showing at the “Battle”, where they played three top-25 teams in three days, the Rams looked loose against a team that is clearly not of the same ilk, no offense to Stetson. It makes the win difficult to assess, if the prism we’re viewing VCU through now is that of a team on par with the Dukes and the Missouris and the Memphises. But the Rams appeared to do everything they were supposed to do, and more.

“It’s always fun to play here. We had a tough little stretch in the Bahamas going 1-2, so we told ourselves to reset, come back to Siegel,” said junior Rob Brandenberg, who finished with 17 points.

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THANKSGIVING TOURNAMENT A MIXED BLESSING FOR VCU

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Sophomore Treveon Graham averaged 18.0 points and 6.0 rebounds for VCU, which finished 1-2 at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU’s 1-2 performance at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament over Thanksgiving Weekend is likely to be viewed as many different things to many different people.

On one hand, the Rams upset 19th-ranked Memphis and battled then fifth-ranked Duke and 13th-ranked Missouri to the final horn, only to lose close games. You could say that alone is proof the Rams are a top-25 caliber team and can compete with anybody in the country, that they can walk with their chests puffed out, their confidence soaring.

The flip side is that for whatever moral victories were won, the Rams still lost games to Duke and Missouri that were within their reach, that VCU missed an opportunity to make a splash nationally. Against Duke, VCU’s balky free throw shooting reared its ugly head, while Missouri was able to control the paint in its 68-65 win over the Rams.

Regardless of which side you fall on, or, if your opinions reside closer to the centerline, there were positives and negatives from the experience. VCU players, talking publicly for the first time since returning from the Paradise Island Resort in Nassau, the site of the star-studded tournament, sounded as if they were also trying to categorize their performance. Net positive or an exercise in frustration? Teachable moment? Confidence builder? All of the above?

“We learned a lot. It was a good trip, a learning experience,” said junior Rob Brandenberg, who averaged 11.3 points in three tournament games. “One thing I learned about us is we’ve got to continue to get better and we’ve got to attack everything we do. Every time we take the floor we’ve got to attack. That’s when we’re at our best.”

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BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS SPLITS

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I thought this may be of interest. Here are VCU’s stats from the three Battle 4 Atlantis games – games against the No. 19, 13 and 5 teams in the country.  Click to enlarge.

Right out of the gate, one thing that jumps out is Treveon Graham’s stat line: 18.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg against terrific competition. That speaks volumes about the progress of the talented sophomore. Juvonte Reddic also continues to impress. He posted a double-double against Duke and averaged 12.0 ppg and 9.3 rpg.

VCU JOURNEY TO ATLANTIS COULD BE A PATH TO MARCH SUCCESS

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Five NCAA Tournament teams and three NIT squads from 2011-12 comprise a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis field.

RICHMOND, Va. – Duke, Louisville, Minnesota, Memphis, Missouri, Stanford, Northern Iowa. Coach K, Tubby, Frank Haith, Josh Pastner. That’s the lineup and the names of some of the marquee coaches in the Battle 4 Atlantis field, in which VCU will participate Nov. 22-24 in the Bahamas. This is big-boy basketball.

The Rams (2-1) will open with 19th-ranked Memphis on Thursday. After that, it’s fifth-ranked Duke or Minnesota, which is lurking just outside the top 25. Then, take your pick of second-ranked Louisville, or perhaps, 13th-ranked Missouri. Usually these tournaments have a punching bag, a Chaminade (too soon, Texas?), if you will. Not here. VCU will play three games, and there’s no such thing as a day off or an easy road.

It looks and feels a lot like the postseason, and more specifically, the NCAA Tournament, and the experience could pay dividends for the Rams down the road. VCU will play three NCAA-Tournament quality teams regardless of how the brackets shake out. You can’t simulate that elsewhere. It’s like a March Madness primer on steroids. It’s like Chuck Yeager’s Flight Simulator for championship basketball. A win, or two, or three would not only bolster VCU’s NCAA resume, it could also prepare the Rams to make another tournament run.

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