Tomorrow afternoon you might find yourself at the Siegel Center.
With visions of Wahoos and Rams dancing in our heads (and hopefully in March), let’s take a look at the best non-conference game featuring two state schools in all of this college basketball season.
VCU will have an advantage with the #LetsGoVCU faithful guaranteed to be fired up to improve upon an all-time 2-11 record against Virginia.
The road team has won the last two games in this series, but roster turnover has made that stat almost irrelevant.
Justin Tillman was the lone VCU player to participate in the 2014 showdown to which UVA won 74-57. Tillman came off the bench to give Shaka Smart 13 minutes while scoring 4 points with 3 rebounds and a block. Jonathan Williams was on the roster as well, but didn’t play.
Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Jack Salt were on UVA’s roster, but only Hall played in the game, scoring 2 points and dishing a single dime in 15 minutes off of the bench.
How all of those names have transformed.
Tillman is a legit NBA Draft prospect who is a favorite to win A10 player of the year if he can stay healthy and has boosted his stamina from last year. His game is almost fully developed as a dominant college low-post player. Very few D1 players can finish around the basket like Tillman.
Williams is the facilitator that VCU needs with great scoring talent around him in the form of Tillman, Longwood transfer Khris Lane, Maine transfer Issac Vann, and the youth movement of De’Riante Jenkins and Malik Crowfield. So far Williams is averaging 6.5 assists to 2 turnovers per game this season.
One of my critiques last year was that JeQuan Lewis did not excel in assist to turnover ratio (Lewis finished a full season with 4.5 assists per game to 2.5 turnovers per game). If Williams can maintain his current pace or even improve upon it, that will only reinforce VCU’s chances of being successful.
On the Virginia side Devon Hall has grown the most. He is a versatile guard that can do anything and has reached a point where he is a legit threat to score, move the ball, crash boards, and be a defensive stopper with more pure strength than UVa had last year at the position with a finesse driven player handling the ball in the form of London Perantes.
Wilkins still has room to improve but has the makings to replicate rim protectors of recent memory like Darion Atkins and Akil Mitchell.
Salt has the most room to improve. His skills are still awkward and his size remains to be his most important value.
UVA doesn’t need Wilkins and Salt to do much outside of bother opposing front court players because they have Jay Huff, DeAndre Hunter, and Kyle Guy.
All three of those names will experience a tougher defense on Friday at 4 PM at the Stu than they have in the two games so far. They still will need to split the majority of the scoring if the ‘Hoos are to win.
The most important aspects of this game to take note of are as follows.
Who for Virginia can guard Tillman?
Wilkins seems like a better fit if we are talking athleticism, but Tillman always finds a way to out work guys in that sort of matchup. Salt likely can’t hang with Tillman except for in stretches. Wilkins will get the assignment but Salt will have to perform well in the five or so minutes he is lined up against Tillman.
Can VCU thrive offensively in the half court?
One of the reasons UVA beat VCU in 2014 was because the Rams couldn’t get to the rim against Tony Bennett’s pack line defense. This time around, VCU is a better shooting team so they will be able to spread the floor and probe with more efficiency once the shots start falling.
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