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.
Experience tells us that coaches, by and large, love as much additional practice time as the law allows, while players are happy to line games up one after another.
The important question is, can the Rams benefit from a long break in the middle of a season? Some would argue that the rhythm of continuous games can keep teams sharp, while others would say a rested team is a dangerous one.
“I’m not sure. I’ll tell you Saturday after the game,” Smart joked. “I think we certainly, like 99 percent of the teams in the country, can benefit from working on some things in practice, but practice only helps insofar as you’re able to carry it over to the game.”
When the season is in full swing and games are played generally every three or four days, much of that time is spent on scouting reports and film of the next opponent. However, with no midweek opponent, the Rams can spend more time straightening out their own kinks.
“A big thing is rest. Another thing is we just get better,” said senior point guard Darius Theus. “We get the extra time in the gym to get shots up and have a practice just focused on us, and it’s not concerned about another team, it’s all about us.”
Recent history appears to favor the Rams. VCU is 11-3 the last three seasons when playing with five or more “rest” days between games, including 3-0 this year (Old Dominion, Alabama, Fairleigh Dickinson).
“We’ve been in this situation before, and I think we’ve responded pretty well,” Smart said.