With all due respect to Shaka Smart, the only one wreaking havoc lately is the Missouri Valley Conference on the Atlantic 10. Wichita State downed Saint Louis in a huge mid-major tilt a couple of weeks ago, then Illinois State shocked a hot Dayton squad, and now Northern Iowa has taken down VCU 77-68 with a win today in Ceder Falls.
Simply put, it was a total team effort from Ben Jacobson's Panthers this afternoon and UNI dictated the pace for much of the game. To the contrary, VCU looked like a team just waking up for this 11 AM central tip.
At halftime, UNI lead 27-20 and it was VCU's lowest scoring total of the season at the break. VCU would turn up the heat, in terms of scoring in the second half, but could never catch up and get over the hump against the Panthers.
Was this a blueprint for beating VCU? Should VCU fans be worried? Here are my key takeways after this afternoon's affair.
- Today was the first game where the new officiating and touch fouls seem to hinder Shaka Smart's Rams. VCU picked up a lot of touch fouls during their HAVOC pressure or away from the ball. In the end, the foul total would be huge as VCU was just 10 for 12 from the line, while UNI made it to the line 28 times making 19 free throws.
- VCU has to learn how to play offense when they are not generating steals and are forced to play a halfcourt offense. The Rams have guys that can bomb it from downtown in Jordan Burgess, Treveon Graham, Melvin Johnson, and others; but the inside game has to set up the long range game for success. There is no excuse for Juvonte Reddic, Mo Alie-Cox, and Terrance Shannon combining for just 5 points and 10 rebounds today. These are guys that should be able dominate the paint during this portion of the schedule. Give a ton of credit to the team effort of the Panthers today, who out-rebounded VCU 41-32 on the evening.
- In my opinion, VCU sets up straw men with their schedule. They bring in some of the best mid-major teams from the "middle level" conferences in the country and spend their pregame efforts pumping up their opponents. Belmont, Eastern Kentucky, and Long Beach State are all fine squads, but in the end VCU has a ton more talent than these teams and should not be struggling quite as much.
Should Rams fans be worried? Probably not, but this team isn't even close to the Top 10 ranking they garnered early on this season. VCU can still beat anyone in the country, but Shaka Smart has to be willing to adapt a little more. I applaud coaches for enforcing their style and tempo of play, but sometimes it's not going to work and you may have to cater to your individual strengths.
For UNI, the Panthers are now 5-5 and have clawed their way back to five hundred. Their bench was phenomenal today with 39 points and 16 rebounds. Nate Buss was the star off the bench with 16 points and 7 rebounds.
The Panthers now get the week off for exams before heading to Charlottesville next Saturday to take on a Virginia team VCU beat in their second game of the season. It will be UNI's second trip to the Commonwealth this year and their third match up against a team from Virginia.
VCU will get a struggling Wofford team in Richmond on Tuesday, in a game the Rams should dominate. VCU will then head to their old home and CAA Tournament stomping grounds, the Richmond Coliseum, to to take on a surprising Virginia Tech team in the Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic.