The VCU Rams take on the Arizona State Sun Devils at the Barclays Center on Wednesday night in the Legends Classic. Take a look at three keys for the VCU Rams to focus on to come out with a victory.
VCU squares off with Arizona State for the first time in school history on Wednesday night at 8:30 PM, with the winner facing Michigan/Pittsburgh in the championship on Nov. 17. The Rams have a big opportunity on their hands, playing at the site of this year’s Atlantic-10 Tournament, to get a marquee victory against a Pac-12 opponent on their resume.
Ace Baldwin Jr. runs the show with great success
Through two games, it hasn’t been the ability to score that’s been most impressive for Ace Baldwin Jr. Instead, it’s been his ability to run the show on offense as the point guard. He finished with nine points, five assists and tied his career-high with seven steals against Morgan State and didn’t force much with the ball in his hands.
Brandon Johns Jr. finished with 15 points (11 in the second half) as well thanks to a greater focus on getting the ball inside and scoring around the rim. There was a much more concerted effort to get the ball in the paint in the second half, as the Rams put up 24 of their 34 paint points in the second half. Baldwin has done well to show he can change the trajectory of the offense with his playmaking and ability to run the point guard spot so far this season.
A bigger test remains on the horizon with Arizona State and it’s a test I believe Baldwin should pass with flying colors. He’s got the tools around him to be successful as Jayden Nunn and Zeb Jackson have proven capable of being successful around Baldwin as well.
Win the 3-point line
The Sun Devils are certainly vulnerable already heading into Wednesday’s meeting, coming off a 67-66 loss to Texas Southern on the road this past Sunday. In that game, they shot 5-of-23 (21.7 percent) from 3-point land in their loss to the Wildcats. That’s not all though. Arizona State struggled mightily shooting the 3-ball against Tarleton State in their season-opening 62-59 victory as well, shooting 6-of-24 (25 percent) from the arc.
Free throws and turnovers aside, the Rams have still managed to do a masterful job shooting the ball on the perimeter. Through their first two victories, they’re shooting 34.9 percent from 3-point range as a team with Ace Baldwin Jr. and Jamir Watkins both leading the way from a percentage standpoint at 42.9 percent from the arc.
Arizona State hasn’t faced a perimeter attack quite like the VCU Rams through their first three games as opponents have made just 5.0 3-pointers per contest through their 2-1 start but, the Rams are well above that mark with 7.5 made 3-pointers per contest.
Baldwin, Watkins and David Shriver are a few of the names that come to mind as potentially having big games in the perimeter game for the Rams. If they do, look for VCU to end up in the win-column before it’s all said and done.
Battle on the boards
The Rams struggled a bit on the rebounding front in the first half against the Morgan State Bears but won the overall rebounding battle by the end of the night, 34-32. They’ll have a chance to push the envelope in the paint against the Sun Devils. Arizona State was outrebounded 44-41, allowing 15 offensive rebounds in their overtime loss to Texas Southern this past Sunday.
With Brandon Johns Jr., Jalen DeLoach, Jamir Watkins, David Shriver and Tobi Lawal on the interior, there’s potential for this group to win on the glass. Watkins and DeLoach are averaging 6.5 rpg apiece while Shriver is at 5.0 rpg and Johns Jr. is at 4.5 rpg. Jayden Nunn has even stepped things up with 4.0 rpg through their first two contests.
The length, athleticism and versatility are certainly there and after bouncing back from their first-half test against Morgan State. They didn’t let the experience of the Bears overwhelm them. They’ll need to do similar with the size of 6-foot-8 forward Marcus Bagley and 7-foot big man Warren Washington down low.