KEYS TO THE GAME
1. THE ONE-TWO PUNCH
VCU junior guard Eric Maynor and senior guard Jamal Shuler have picked apart opposing defenses this season, combining to score nearly half of the Rams’ points. The duo, which earned All-CAA first team accolades, totaled 20 points against the Tribe at Kaplan Arena Mar. 1 and 36 points at home in December. If the Tribe relies on man-to-man defense, the two will be unstoppable. Maynor’s game is built on beating his defender off the dribble, while Shuler frees himself for open jump shots. Throwing a mixture of man and zone defense at the two guards should stymie some of the Ram’s offense firepower. However, the Tribe must keep a watchful eye on another dangerous weapon, freshman forward Larry Sanders, the most athletic player on VCU’s roster.
2. SILENCING THE CROWD
Just playing no. 1 seed VCU is a big enough challenge for the Tribe. Facing the Rams blocks away from their campus in the Richmond Coliseum will add another degree of difficulty and intrigue in their quest for a tournament title. Saturday, the Tribe upset no. 4 seed Old Dominion on the backs of senior Nathan Mann’s clutch three-point shooting down the stretch and senior Laimis Kisielius’ precision in the paint. They also received much-needed support from several hundred raucous VCU fans that remained after the conclusion of the Rams’ quarterfinal match-up vs. Towson to cheer loudly for the underdog Tribe. Expect no less from the VCU faithful, who will show up in herds tomorrow, and give their team a big boost in the cold and cavernous Coliseum.
If the Tribe can slow down the tempo and spread the Rams’ defense out on offense, they will likely take the partisan crowd out of the game. An offensive swoon in the opening minutes similar to those against Georgia State and ODU could easily turn the neutral arena into an unfriendly environment for the Tribe and work in the Rams’ favor.
With an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament on the line, VCU has ample motivation to beat the Tribe. Head Coach Anthony Grant and the Rams’ won big non-conference games against Maryland and Akron but have yet to lock up a bid. It’s possible they would still make the tournament after losing to the Tribe since their RPI rating is currently 45th overall, but there’s no guarantee. A Tribe upset would be crushing for VCU’s NCAA hopes and that’s exactly why it won’t happen. But then again, few envisioned sophomore guard David Schneider and Mann would drain back-to-back game-winning shots.
Prediction: VCU 58, Tribe 53