March 2, 2013
A-10, Atlantic 10 Conference, Brad Stevens, Butler Bulldogs, Darius Theus, Shaka Smart
Senior Troy Daniels provided a game-high 20 points in VCU’s win over Butler Saturday.
RICHMOND, Va. – Moments before his team took the floor for Saturday’s highly anticipated game with 20th-ranked Butler, VCU Coach Shaka Smart wrote two simple words on a whiteboard in the locker room: Be VCU.
What followed was one of the most thorough dissections of a top 25 team you’ll ever see, an 84-52 browbeating that should turn heads. VCU was everything Smart wanted and more. The Rams were VCU, but they were VCU in the Hulk’s body, wearing Superman’s cape. VCU was about as good a version of itself as possible. The Rams were the Five Horsemen of Havoc, laying waste to the Bulldogs in a way not seen in Coach Brad Stevens six seasons. It was Butler’s worst loss in a conference game since the 1985-86 season.
It’s Smart’s job to find the wrong in VCU’s performance Saturday, but he’s going to dig a little deeper this time around.
“I don’t think this game went perfectly at all,” he said. “I thought our response to what happened was close to perfect…if anything was perfect, it was our guy’s commitment to our plan and our goal.”
Hey, he’s got to say things like that.
February 27, 2013
Butler Bulldogs, Darius Theus, Final Four, Rob Brandenberg, Shaka Smart, Shelvin Mack
Rob Brandenberg played seven minutes as a freshman against Butler in the 2011 National Semifinal
RICHMOND, Va. – Monday night, after a long day of recruiting, Shaka Smart did it. He finally watched the game tape of VCU’s 70-62 loss to Butler on April 2, 2011 at the Final Four. First, he watched clips of VCU’s press versus the Bulldogs, then he watched the game in its entirety. He told himself he wouldn’t get upset.
In today’s world of college basketball there are staffers, usually a graduate assistant, assigned with procuring a DVD of a game literally moments after the final horn sounds. From there, the footage is cut, spliced, splintered, scrunched, scrinched and repackaged in a Wonka-like process that has an easily consumable copy in the hands of the coaching staff by dawn. The raw game tape, meanwhile, is usually devoured by coaches before you can get from the arena to your pillow.
But not this game. Too painful.
However, with Saturday’s rematch with Butler at the Siegel Center looming, Smart knew the time had come. In the name of assembling a tactical plan for the Rams’ biggest game of the season, after nearly 700 days of avoidance, Smart cued up video of the biggest game of his life. He didn’t get upset, but he didn’t like what he saw, either.
“It’s amazing when you set your mind on something what you can do. I just told myself I wasn’t going to get upset. I knew that we lost the game, so, just watch it objectively,” he said Wednesday.
“They were the better team that day.”
February 14, 2013
Shaka Smart, Rob Brandenberg, Darius Theus, Briante Weber, UMass Minutemen, Derek Kellogg, Chaz Williams, Little Einsteins
Chaz Williams (7.1 apg) leads the A-10′s most up-tempo offense.
RICHMOND, Va. – Parenting is an immersive culture. It seems like only yesterday you were planning your buddy’s insane-but-can’t-talk-about-it bachelor party, and then one day you wake up and find yourself half awake, unknowingly singing the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” song in the checkout line at Target with dried Gerber’s beets on your collar.
It’s from this frame of mind that I come to you today. It’s why when I thought about VCU and UMass trying to match each other’s energy, aggression and tempo Thursday night at the Siegel Center, the “Little Einsteins” came to mind. Folks, this how I’m living these days, large and in charge.
Basically, the kids in the Little Einsteins cartoon fly around in a rocket that is fueled by beats. The faster they pat their legs – while calling out tempo words like “moderato”, “allegro” and “presto” – the faster the jet soars through the sky. If you’ve never seen it, this probably doesn’t make sense to you. Actually, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Let’s move along, allegrissimo, because I sense I’ve crossed over into the ridiculous.
Anyway, it gave me a vision of UMass Coach Derek Kellogg patting his quads to spur on rocket point guard Chaz Williams, who averages 16.1 points, 7.1 assists and has ripped 45 steals. Behind the play of its athletic catalyst, UMass ranks 22nd in the country in adjusted tempo and second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring (72.6 ppg).
February 7, 2013
A-10, Atlantic 10 Conference, Charlotte 49ers, Darius Theus, Shaka Smart
Troy Daniels is shooting nearly 44 percent from 3-point range in road and neutral site games this year.
RICHMOND, Va. – The second half of VCU’s Atlantic 10 Conference schedule is no holiday. Of the Rams’ eight remaining games, seven are against teams with a sub-100 RPI, including Butler, currently ranked 14th nationally in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
It’s a 4/4 home/road split down the stretch for first-place VCU (18-5, 6-2 A-10). Those road contests include Charlotte on Feb. 9, Saint Louis, Xavier and Temple – four schools with an average RPI of 58. It’s a gauntlet that could cement VCU’s NCAA at-large hopes. The good news for the Rams is that they’ve had success on the road of late.
In the last three years, VCU is 16-6 in conference road games and 24-10 in true road games overall. That includes the Rams’ 6-1 mark in true road contests this season.
“Our guys have done a nice job on the road,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said. “I give our guys a lot of credit. We’ve won every road game the last year, save two that were unbelievable comebacks by our opponents. So, our guys have put [us] in positions to win all those games.”
Smart doesn’t believe the Rams’ ability win in hostile environments is an accident. Smart and his staff have worked carefully, he says, to instill a road warrior mentality in the minds of players. Although the official lexicon of the VCU Basketball Keys to Road Success (title is my own) is a closely-guarded secret, Smart did offer a portion of his philosophy at his weekly press conference Wednesday.
February 6, 2013
Charlotte 49ers, Darius Theus, Shaka Smart
VCU will wait six days between A-10 games this week.
RICHMOND, Va. – We now interrupt this regularly scheduled season for rest.
VCU, at the midpoint of its race for an Atlantic 10 Conference championship, finds itself in the midst of a six-day break between league games – a respite built into each A-10 school’s schedule. The Rams (18-5, 6-2 A-10) topped Fordham on Feb. 2, but will not play again until they travel to Charlotte on Feb. 9.
Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart says the team is doing its best to capitalize on its bye week.
“We’ve practiced pretty hard,” Smart said Wednesday at his weekly press conference. “[Tuesday] was really good. It was one of the most competitive practices we’ve had all year. For certain individuals we’re treating this week differently. For some it’s a little more about rest, for some guys it’s more about getting them in the right frame of mind, getting them more aggressive, and hopefully by Saturday we’ll have everyone where we want them to be.”
It’s not uncommon to have a week-long break between non-conference games, especially around Christmas and during finals week, but it’s a relatively rare occurrence during conference play. That was not a feature of the Colonial Athletic Association schedule, which was more compact due to the league’s affiliation with the ESPNU BracketBusters event and a conference tournament that took place a week earlier than the A-10.
January 24, 2013
Black and Blue Classic, Brandon Rozzell, Darius Theus, Joey Rodriguez, Richmond Spiders, Shaka Smart, Troy Daniels.
VCU is 2-1 against Richmond during senior Darius Theus’ career.
RICHMOND, Va. – For a night, battle lines are drawn somewhere around Staples Mill Road. It’s West End versus Downtown when Richmond and VCU meet on the basketball court.
“I remember when I got the job here, several people came up to me and told me, I don’t care how you do all season, except you’ve got to beat Old Dominion and Richmond, and so I never forgot when they said that,” recalled VCU Coach Shaka Smart Tuesday.
In recent years, as both programs have risen to national prominence – VCU’s Final Four run in 2011 cemented its status, while Richmond’s Sweet 16 berth the same year did the same – so too has this long-running rivalry.
It’s always been a contentious fight, but lately, the stars have aligned to add flavor to this rivalry. In addition to each school’s NCAA tournament success, 19th-ranked VCU (16-3, 4-0 A-10) and Richmond (12-7, 2-2 A-10) are conference foes once again this season. A win is worth more than local bragging rights. It can alter the course of the Atlantic 10 Conference race.
Fans on both sides of the rivalry cast their stones annually, sometimes enough to whip players and coaches into the fervor. Smart said recently that in past years, players like Joey Rodriguez, known for his penchant for absorbing Internet chatter, and Richmond-native Brandon Rozzell enjoyed the buzz around town for games like this.
January 18, 2013
A-10, Atlantic 10 Conference, Darius Theus, Saint Joseph's Hawks, Shaka Smart, Troy Daniels.
Sophomore Treveon Graham scored six of his game-high 25 points in overtime Thursday.
RICHMOND, Va. – If you turned on Thursday’s VCU-Saint Joseph’s game and felt like you were watching an instant classic from some March of yesteryear, don’t worry, you weren’t the only one. This was a March appetizer on a January plate.
What you were actually witnessing was just another day in the life of the rough-and-tumble Atlantic 10 Conference, 22nd-ranked VCU’s new hoops home. This probably won’t be the last one of these. There are very few pushovers in one of America’s deepest leagues, and there are apparently no off nights in this 16-team gauntlet. While the Colonial Athletic Association was often a caste system of haves and have-nots, the A-10 feels like a balanced free-for-all.
What we learned from the Rams’ heart-pounding, how-did-they-do-it 92-86 overtime victory, in addition to expect more white-knuckle barnburners, was that VCU (15-3, 3-0 A-10) is also up to the challenge offered by the A-10.
When the Rams’ backs were against the wall, they found an answer. When they needed to counterpunch, and counterpunch, and counterpunch they did. When they needed something miraculous, they got it. It wasn’t perfect. Saint Joseph’s (9-6, 1-2 A-10) hit 9-of-22 threes and shot 52 percent for the game, but it was enough.
“If you want to win a conference you have to win games like this,” said VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart. “Not every game is a masterpiece.”
January 15, 2013
Associated Press Top 25 Poll, Darius Theus, Shaka Smart, USA Today Coaches Top 25 Poll
VCU is currently ranked 22nd in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, released Monday.
RICHMOND, Va. – It’s been 27 years since VCU broke into the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, but senior Darius Theus doesn’t view the Rams’ No. 22 ranking as a destination. It’s more like a train stop in Rochester on the way to Detroit.
“We’ve got to get better,” Theus said Tuesday. “Top 25, that’s good. [But] can we be top 10 or can we be top five? We want to get better. We want better than that.”
That’s the prevailing attitude around the Rams this week. The top 25 is nice, but it’s January. Nobody remembers teams that were ranked in January. You make your name in March.
It’s why Theus, VCU’s point guard and captain, is helping Coach Shaka Smart pump the brakes on the top 25 talk.
“We’ve just got to stay humble and stay hungry,” Theus said. “What are we, 22? We want to be better than that. I think we’ve got the guys that are bought into Coach Smart’s plan and process to not be focused on that type of stuff.”
January 6, 2013
C.J. McCullom, Darius Theus, Lehigh Basketball, Lehigh Mountain Hawks, Shaka Smart, Treveon Graham, Troy Daniels.
Senior Troy Daniels cooled off Saturday, but still hit a critical 3-pointer late in the game. He finished with 11 points.
RICHMOND, Va. – VCU had been so effective during its eight-game win streak that the Rams hadn’t played a close game since November. Everything worked. They were turning the opposition over at obscene rates, bombing away from beyond the 3-point line, rebounding effectively, you name it. The only edges the Rams weren’t able to sand smooth were the ones that dictate how to win close games.
But Saturday, as uneasy as it was to sweat out a close one, the Rams got the chance to see how they’d respond when everything didn’t go their way, when they had to make plays down the stretch. So sue them if the 59-55 win over gritty Lehigh wasn’t a cruise-control special, but it was probably a necessary evil.
It’s been an all-or-nothing proposition for VCU. Its previous 11 wins had all come by double figures, while its three losses were all by 10 points or less. In losses to Wichita State and Missouri, the games were decided by a single possession. That’s one stop, one bucket when it counts, a couple of free throws under duress.
There wasn’t much left for VCU to gain from another lob-sided win. Sure, everybody enjoyed the Rams’ 51-point pasting of East Tennessee earlier this week, but what Shaka Smart needed to know was how his team would respond in critical moments, when the game was on the line. This time around, the Rams answered the call. With the VCU’s first foray into Atlantic 10 Conference beginning Wednesday against Dayton, Smart had to find out if his team was ready for white-knuckle moments.
December 29, 2012
B.A. Walker, Bo Jones, Chris Brower, Darius Theus, Fairleigh Dickinson, Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, Havoc, Jamal Shuler, Juvonte Reddic, Ryan Sypkens, Shaka Smart, Troy Daniels.
Senior Troy Daniels (pictured right, shooting) set a VCU single-game record with nine 3-pointers Saturday.
RICHMOND, Va. – In a few days, we’ll close the book on 2012 and turn the page to a new year with new hopes, new goals and new dreams. But they might have to drag Troy Daniels into 2013 kicking and screaming.
Daniels capped his torrid December by stroking a school-record nine 3-pointers and scoring a career-high 27 points in Saturday’s 96-67 win over Fairleigh Dickinson. After a pedestrian 4-of-10 start from beyond the arc, Daniels kicked into high gear, hitting five of his last six, including four straight in the final three minutes, to break Bo Jones’ 13-year-old VCU single-game mark. Daniels originally tied the record with eight triples Dec. 7 at Old Dominion.
This month has been, by far, the best of Daniels’ career. In his last five games, Daniels has averaged 19.9 points and shot .500 (30-of-60) from 3-point range. Daniels has scored at least 24 points in three of those contests.
It hasn’t been so much the flipping of a switch that has turned Daniels into a “must-watch” shooter the last five games as it has been the result of a cumulative effort. It’s been hours at Franklin Street Gym late at night with Assistant Coach Jeremy Ballard, loads of film study, and pep talks with Coach Shaka Smart. Sooner or later, the dam was going to break and allow the river that is Daniels’ sweet shooting stroke to flow freely. It appears we’ve reached that point.
“I’m happy for Troy,” Smart said Saturday. “He’s a guy that’s put a lot of extra work in, a lot of extra hours where it was just him and a manager in the gym and it’s paying off for him.”