As Marquette and VCU set to get the Maui Invitational underway, Chris Schutte of Mid-Major Madness answered some of our most pressing questions about the Rams.
Big East Coast Bias: How does this VCU team differ from the Shaka Smart and Will Wade squads of years past?
Chris Schutte: Mike Rhoades was a member of Shaka Smart’s staff before taking the job at Rice, so it’s not a major change in terms of coaching philosophy or playstyle. The biggest difference for VCU going into the year was the amount of roster turnover that hit the roster. The Rams lost three of their top four scorers from last year in Jequan Lewis, Mo-Alie Cox and Samir Doughty, as well as a bevy of seniors. It obviously hasn’t hindered them too much this year as their offense is operating at a pretty efficient rate so far, but there’s a lot of moving parts that can make it hard to gauge how good they really are early on in the season. This matchup against Marquette should be a good litmus test to see how this team stacks up against those from the previous regimes.
BECB: Through their first two games, Marquette has been hampered by not having a true big. It's caused matchup problems on both ends of the floor. Is there anyone on VCU who could take advantage down low and give the Golden Eagles a problem in the paint?
CS: VCU is kind of similar in the sense they don’t have a “true big” in terms of size, but Justin Tillman can definitely be a problem. Through three games, he’s averaging 15.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, and is probably first name that should appear on the scouting report. He’s a little undersized at just 6’8”, but he’s athletic and active down low. He’s capable of stepping out to the perimeter and knocking down jumpers, but his bread and butter is working in the paint. If Marquette can slow him down like Virginia was able to, they should be in decent shape.
BECB: Who could be an X-Factor for the Rams?
CS: Isaac Vann is a guy that doesn’t start but can come in and provide a scoring punch for VCU. He’s been there second leading scorer through three games, and even had 19 points against Virginia off the bench. When he’s in the game, he’s looking to score first and foremost. He hits the glass pretty well too as he’s pulled down at least five rebounds in every game so far this year. De’Riante Jenkins could have a big impact too if he’s able to force the Marquette guards into turnovers on defense like he’s been able to early on this year.
BECB: Who wins and why?
CS: As someone who covers mid-majors and wants to show them as much love as possible, I want to pick VCU. However, I don’t think they’ll be able to match the firepower that Marquette possesses on offense. Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey should be able to handle the pressure that VCU will look to apply on defense. I think it’ll be close, but Marquette is probably a better team at this point in the season. Let’s go with Marquette 79-73.