By Chris Kowalczyk
While "wreaking havoc" has been ingrained into the VCU lexicon, VMI practically wrote the book on 21st century drag race basketball. The Keydets (6-3) have led the nation in scoring that last four seasons and are currently ranked second at 95.1 points per game. They also rank 327th in points allowed (79.7).
Like VCU, VMI likes to utilize the full court press to force turnovers and spur fast break opportunities. However, Keydets Head Coach Duggar Baucom also sets some interesting goals for his team for each game. Among them, score 100 points, take 50 3-pointers and force 30 turnovers.
The Keydets have topped 100 points three times this year, all against non-Division I opponents. VMI is AVERAGING more than 30 attempted 3-pointers a night and is turning opposing teams over nearly 22 times.
Rams Head Coach Shaka Smart, himself a proponent of fast play, will look to slow the Keydets frenetic pace.
"It starts with transition defense," Smart said. "We've got to make sure we're getting back in transition and building a fort with our defense in terms of making it hard to get to the basket and hard for them to shoot 3-pointers…not giving them uncontested 3-pointers and controlling the long rebounds."
"If the game is going so fast where you're not making good decisions – and VMI turns people over 23 times a game – or you're not getting great shots… then the game is too fast. Hopefully, the way we practice and the way we play has prepared us for this type of opponent."
One thing is for certain, this one should be fun for these two fast-paced squads.
"[Our guys] are definitely looking forward to the game," Smart said. "I'm glad that they're excited. We need to make sure that they understand that there's a discipline level that has to come into play for us to be successful."
BYE, BYE BIGS?
VMI starts four players 6-5 or shorter and will run at every opportunity. This season, Smart has deployed three and four guard lineups for the majority of VCU's seven games. While the Rams should be able to match up with the Keydets small lineup, fans expecting to see a battle of post players will likely be disappointed.
"It may not be an ideal game for them to play a lot of minutes, to be honest," Smart said "First of all, VMI starts four guards, so just from a match-up standpoint, we do match up better when we have a small team in. Because of the pace of the game, our big guys can run, but moreso on the defensive end, we need to make sure we stay in front of them."
Prior to the Rams' contest with William & Mary on Saturday, Smart inserted senior guard Brandon Rozzell into the starting lineup in favor of junior forward Toby Veal. The move gave VCU a four guard look, with junior Bradford Burgess starting at the power forward spot.
RODRIGUEZ PLAYING THROUGH PAIN
Senior point guard Joey Rodriguez has been limited in recent week by a myriad of nagging injuries, including groin and ankle ailments. Although he's currently not expected to miss any action, Rodriguez's health is being closely monitored.
Rodriguez, an All-CAA Second Team selection last season, is averaging 13.3 points and 6.1 assist per game this season.
VCU has been hampered by early season rebounding woes, but Smart believes the Rams can turn it around on the glass.
The Black and Gold was outrebounded by 14 in the first half of Saturday's victory over William & Mary and have been outboarded in five of seven games this year. VCU is averaging nearly seven fewer rebounds than its opponents this season.
"Depending on who you're playing, there's going to be a lot of long rebounds and some of them are a matter of where the ball bounces, but if you get outrebounded by 14, that's a problem," Smart said. "You have to make a concerted effort to go out there and rebound. It's somewhat of a tradeoff. We play a smaller team for the majority of the minutes out there, that's a bit of a tradeoff.
"We're going to continue to work on it, to work on it more, emphasize it. It's been a big point of emphasis. Rebounding is something we struggled with early last year and we got better as the year went on, and I think this year's team will also."
FUN WITH NUMBERS
Bradford Burgess is shooting 58 percent (18-of-31) from 3-point range this year and 47 percent (9-of-19) from the free throw line… Joey Rodriguez needs three assists to move past Sherman Hamilton (417) and into sixth place on VCU's career list. Rodriguez is also six 3-pointers from tying former teammate Jamal Shuler (170) for fourth all-time… The Siegel Center record for points scored by one team is 112, achieved by the Rams on Jan. 27 against Towson. VCU also set a school record with 20 3-pointers during that game. Both are expected to be in ample supply Wednesday night against VMI… Burgess has eight blocked shots this season. He had 13 all of last year… Despite the loss of two-time CAA Defensive Player of the Year, VCU is blocking more shots this season (5.3) than in 2009-10 (4.1)… Rodriguez is shooting .446 (58-of-130) from 3-point range in his last 22 games.