It’s time for our weekly segment – Four on the Floor. This is where we look at four teams and in the case of this week, why they are all successful. One team, VCU, is now well known to most college basketball fans. The other three teams aren't so well known.
Shaka Smart’s Rams are in the thick of things again in college basketball this season. Despite being only 6-3, the Rams have looked particularly impressive in wins over Memphis and Belmont and close losses to Duke, Missouri and Wichita State (those three teams are a combined 26-1). Their average margin of victory in their six wins is an astounding twenty two points per game.
Last season’s success was based mostly on their ability to turn over the ball on their opponents as VCU was first in turnover percentage defense and steal percentage. They were also twenty seventh in the country in turnover percentage offense, so when they stole the ball, they held onto it well. This season the Rams are tenth in turnover percentage defense and fourth in the country in steal percentage defense. Briante Weber averages over three steals per game for VCU.
This season, the Rams are statistically much better overall than the 2011-12 team that made the third round of the NCAA Tournament and nearly made the Sweet Sixteen. Last season the team was statistically in the lower third in three point percentage offense, two point percentage offense and free throw percentage. This season, VCU is in the top one hundred in three point percentage offense and two point percentage offense, as well as thirty sixth in offensive rebound percentage.
The concern going into this season was who was going to fill Bradford Burgess’ scoring shoes. Well, three players in particular, Treveon Graham, Juvonte Reddic and Rob Brandenberg have stepped up and increased their scoring averages from last season. Graham averages fifteen points and five rebounds per game while shooting fifty percent from the field. Reddic averages over fourteen points per game, eight rebounds, nearly two steals and shoots fifty nine percent from the field.
The Rams are averaging seven more points per game this season compared to last season. VCU has five straight non conference home games before A-10 play. Three games won’t be easy as Alabama, Western Kentucky and Lehigh combined are 22-6. But considering they have played the Shockers, Blue Devils and two sets of Tigers (Missouri and Memphis), they should be prepared.
The Golden Griffins won all of five games in the 2011-12 season. It was the last season for former coach Tom Parrotta, who was fired in March. Former Rhode Island coach Jimmy Baron was hired. He brought his son Billy with him and instant success as well. Already the Griffs are “bowl eligible”, having won more games than last season. Their only loss came at 7-2 Stony Brook. The Griffs already are 2-0 in the MAAC, which is more conference wins than they had all of last season. Both of those conference games also came on the road.
Simply put, Canisius’ success lies in their offense. They are thirty sixth in the country in scoring, averaging just under seventy eight points per game. The Griffs are in the top one hundred in just about every offensive category. They stand out in particular in effective field goal percentage, fifty fourth at 52.2 percent.
Canisius is led by their two guards Harold Washington and Baron, who combine for twenty six points, eight rebounds and eight assists per game. Washington is shooting a scorching fifty six percent from beyond the arc. And the Griffs are a deep team, as nine players average fifteen minutes or more per game.
Three of the Griffs’ next four non conference games are all tough ones on the road – at #4 Syracuse, at Temple and at #20 UNLV (they also play at Detroit late this month). However the Griffs should win their home games vs. Longwood and Alcorn State. With a seemingly down year for the MAAC, it’s quite possible that Canisius will finish with a winning record. Considering the Griffs haven’t had a winning record this decade that would be an amazing feat.
Name the Sun Belt team with the most wins last season? Yes, it was the Blue Raiders with twenty seven wins. But they got upset in the first round of the Sun Belt Tournament and ended up in the NIT where they made the quarterfinals before losing to Minnesota. MT has picked up where they left off with a 7-2 record, which includes a home win over Mississippi.
The Blue Raiders win by making their opponents cough up the ball, cleaning up the offensive glass and hitting three pointers. Middle Tennessee is thirty eighth in turnover percentage defense, forty seventh in steal percentage, forty sixth in offensive rebound percentage and fifty fifth in three point field goal percentage offense.
The Blue Raiders only have two players who average double digits in scoring. Marcos Knight and Shawn Jones combine for twenty three points and twelve rebounds per game. What helps Middle Tennessee is that they have ten players who average thirteen minutes or more per game. Including Marcos Knight and Jones, they have eight players who average five or more points per game.
Middle Tennessee has some in state rivalry games before they continue conference play on December 29. They are at Belmont tonight and have a neutral site game vs. Vanderbilt on December 21. Pomeroy has the Blue Raiders winning twenty six games and going 18-2 in conference, similar to last season. Hopefully this time it leads to a NCAA berth for the Blue Raiders.
OK, name the only team in the state of Kentucky undefeated? Kentucky? Of course not. Murray State? Nope, lost to Colorado in the Charleston Classic. And it’s not Western Kentucky. It’s the Colonels of Eastern Kentucky.
So how have the Colonels won nine straight games? It’s because they force teams to turn the ball over and they score in the paint. The Colonels are second in the country in turnover percentage defense at 29.3 percent and nineteenth in the country in steal percentage defense at 14.1 percent. Eastern Kentucky is FIRST in the country in two point field goal percentage offense at 59.5 percent, eleventh in the country in effective field goal percentage at 56.4 percent and thirteenth in the country in field goal percentage at 49.5 percent. Simply put, they make you cough up the ball and then make you pay for it.
Three players on Eastern Kentucky shoot over sixty percent from the field. Glenn Cosey averages nearly eighteen points per game while shooting fifty one percent from the field, including 46.6 percent from beyond the arc. His teammate, Mike DiNunno averages fourteen points, forty eight percent from the field and shoots forty five percent from beyond the arc.
Belmont and Murray State get all the notoriety in the Ohio Valley, but Eastern Kentucky’s stats show that they are the third team to reckon with in the conference. They have an incredibly tough test at undefeated and tenth ranked Illinois on Sunday as well as a tough game at West Virginia at the end of the month. But you have to root for a team with an ABA team name (Colonels).