MAULING MODESTLY: VIRGINIA UNION NOTES

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Sophomore Briante Weber scored 10 points, eight in transition, and ripped eight steals in VCU’s 94-44 rout of Virginia Union.

RICHMOND, Va. – It must be rough to be Shaka Smart sometimes. It’s his job look at the film from Thursday’s 50-point win and find out what the Rams did wrong. Good luck with that, Coach. Maybe somebody left their shirt untucked.

For most observers of the Rams’ 94-44 systematic obliteration of Virginia Union, VCU was nearly flawless. At one point, the Rams led by 62. Sixty-two points! Even as Smart tried to position himself for a preemptive strike against overconfidence, he conceded a little of the obvious: The Rams dominated the Panthers in every facet of the game.

“I would give it a pretty good,” Smart offered. “It’s about as well as you’re going to do this time of year. We’ve got some things to work on. We’ll watch the tape and see what we need to improve on and get better at.”

It appears VCU was flawless in coachspeak Thursday as well. Of course he can’t give away too much now. He can’t give into the desire to celebrate a win that really isn’t a win at all. On Thursday morning, VCU’s record was 0-0. On Friday morning, it’s still 0-0. Smart’s paid to think big picture, and big picture is March.

Smart’s real task will be to separate VCU’s good from the talent gap between the two teams. Virginia Union was overwhelmed by the Rams’ press to the tune of 22 turnovers. Thirty-three of the Rams’ points came off Union giveaways. Was that because VCU was that good? Was Virginia Union that bad? A little bit of both? That’s going to be Smart’s chore. From my perspective, it was more of VCU’s defensive bloodlust than it was Union’s inadequacy.

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VIRGINIA UNION PREVIEW

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RICHMOND, Va. – The 2012-13 men’s basketball season begins anew tonight. YOOOOOUUUURR VCU Rams will renew the best pseudo-fake rivalry in college basketball when they welcome neighboring Virginia Union in an exhibition at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

The Rams have won their three exhibition games, including two with Virginia Union, under Shaka Smart by an average of 22.3 points. The goal – the hope – is that the game is competitive to a point. Smart likely wants his players to be tested and to have to work through some adversity, but nobody will be comfortable with losing, exhibition or not.

A few years ago, when Union was at the height of its powers under Dave Robbins and VCU was in a solid, but unspectacular state, the Panthers made this an interesting series. From 2002-2005, VCU and Virginia Union met four times. The teams split those four games and all of them were decided by six points or less. There was a buzz around the game you would feel in the city.

The last few years, not so much.

The Rams and Panthers did not meet last season, but from 2006-2010, VCU won five games by 15 points or more, including blowouts of 28, 29 and 30 points.

Virginia Union was 15-14 last season in its first season under Juqman Jaaber, who played point guard in a Panthers win over VCU in 2004. The Panthers have some nice pieces back that could give the Rams trouble. The most intriguing, on paper, will be Union power forward Damion Harris against the Rams’ bigs. At 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, Harris has the heft to mix it up in the post, but can also step out and knock down an occasional 3-pointer. He averaged 13.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season and hit 14-of-41 from beyond the arc. It could be a good test for VCU forwards Juvonte Reddic and D.J. Haley (and others).

Other notable returnees for Virginia Union are senior guard Juan Wilson, who averaged 9.1 points and shot .565 from the field last season, and junior Cordero Holt, a 6-8, 195-lb small forward. Holt averaged 7.0 points per game last year.

The Panthers rebounded the ball pretty well last season (+2.7), but turned it over 15.6 times per game. You know how we feel about turnovers around here.

From VCU’s perspective, Smart will likely use this opportunity to tinker with lineup combinations and new sets. Don’t be surprised if Briante Weber, Teddy Okereafor, Darius Theus, Rob Brandenberg and Melvin Johnson are all on the floor at the same time (just kidding, that’s not happening).

Last year, against California (Pa.) in an exhibition, Smart played his starters between 24-30 minutes. It was also a good trial run for Treveon Graham, who showed VCU fans his potential with 16 points in the Rams’ 71-48 win over a solid Vulcans squad that finished the year 17-12. VCU turned Cal (Pa.) over 24 times last November.

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