As the University of Toledo Rockets prepare for a tough early season road test at perennial power VCU, we sat down with Parks Smith from our sister site Mid-Major Madness to gain some further insight on the Rams and the powerhouse that has become VCU Basketball. Be sure to check out Parks on twitter at @RVAparks and check out all the great work available at Mid Major Madness.
Hustle Belt: Given the run of success that VCU has had in recent years and their jump to the Atlantic 10; do VCU fans and those close to the program still view themselves as a "Mid Major," and carry that proverbial chip on their shoulder that is often associated with mid major programs.
Mid-Major Madness: I would definitely say the fans and the whole conference in general takes the label mid-major as an insult now. But I do think it's interesting that Shaka Smart continues to schedule some of the best mid-major opponents around like Toledo, Cleveland State, and the likes of Northern Iowa and Belmont in the past. VCU's schedule is always littered with quality "mid-majors". Really it's just a term to define coverage for most of us and we all know what VCU can do on the hardwood, so I'm not sure why it bothers so many people.
Hustle Belt: The Rams boast an impressive 20 game home winning streak inside the Stuart Siegel Center, for the visiting Rockets, who have recently played at places like Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, what makes the trip to Richmond such a daunting task for visiting opponents?
Mid-Major Madness: The Stu is a special place and has nothing to do with the building itself but rather the people inside. It's nothing like going into the Phog or any other arena, when VCU imposes HAVOC they do it from the stands as well. The building has awful acoustics which makes for terrible concerts but crazy loud basketball games. VCU has one of the best bands in the nation and just crazy fans. The fans may not be a classically educated basketball crowd (a lot of them are newer to the game) but they stay on top of the opposing team and referees for the whole game. The style of play on the court factors into as well, when you watch away teams against VCU you can see in the first five minutes of the game whether or not they are going to be calm insider or be like a deer in the headlights under VCU's pressure.
Hustle Belt: VCU cruised to a seemingly easy 16 point victory in their opening game against SEC opponent Tennessee, granted it is just one game it what promises to be a long and successful season for the Rams, but were there any surprises or things that stood out either positively or negatively for VCU?
Mid-Major Madness: I was really surprised at how well VCU handled playing without Briante Weber and JeQuan Lewis. Lewis' injury left VCU really without a point guard and it was interesting to see Treveon Graham and Johnathan Williams step up. Tre Graham was Tre Graham with 15 points and 14 boards, while Williams had a nice debut with three assists but looked like a freshman at times turning over the ball three times and fouling out. Melvin Johnson had just about as good of a shooting performance as he's going to have as well.
Hustle Belt: We can't talk about VCU and not bring up Shaka Smart; his name seems to come up annually for job openings around the country, yet he remains fiercely loyal to VCU, is there a job on the horizon that Ram supporters fear could pull Smart out of Richmond, perhaps Duke or UNC just to throw out a couple?
Mid-Major Madness: I think there are always big names like a Duke or North Carolina that are going to make people nervous but I think the one that would make the most sense to be worried about is Wisconsin. Shaka is from Madison and Bo Ryan isn't exactly a spring chicken. Shaka is a really interesting/weird dude and he's obviously just not going to leave to leave. I really think if he left he'd want to instill an environment similar to VCU which couldn't happen at places that are very sterile like UNC. The other thing is when is a crazy NBA owner going to take a swing at him? Obviously I don't think HAVOC will work in the league but it only takes one guy to think it can.
Hustle Belt: Looking ahead to the game on Tuesday, VCU brings a well-deserved reputation for pushing the pace on both the offensive and defensive ends and making the game a full 94 foot contest; historically is there a recipe that teams have followed, whom have fared well against the Rams high pressure style?
Mid-Major Madness: When I think of teams that have come into the Stu and done well over the past couple of years I think of Eastern Kentucky last year and St. Joseph's two years ago. It starts with your guards and whether or not they are going to be calm or have that deer in the headlights moment at the beginning of the game. It also helps to have a forward who can handle the ball a bit to help break the diamond press. Once your team gets across half court remember to take your time you still have 30+ seconds to run your offense. Also, give VCU a little bit of their own medicine and pressure them a bit. EKU forced 16 turnovers last year and that kept them in the game. Lastly, guard the perimeter. VCU isn't the greatest shooting team but they'll try to bomb you anyways.
Hustle Belt: This will be the home opener for VCU, but with games on the approaching schedule against the likes of Villanova and Virginia, will a game against the pre-season MAC favorites garner much buzz amongst the fans and have the player's attention following the Tennessee win?
Mid-Major Madness: I was offered free tickets if that gives you any indication, ha-ha. I think this comes back to the educational piece with the fans, they are there to see VCU and the opponent doesn't really matter. I went to the Wichita State game two years ago and there were plenty of open seats, meanwhile I was yelling "this is freaking Wichita State!". Make no mistake it'll be packed and loud but it certainly won't draw the same buzz for the upcoming Virginia game.
Hustle Belt: Finally, would you care to offer a prediction for Tuesday night in a game in which the Rams should be decisive favorites?
Mid-Major Madness: I'll say VCU 81-61. I definitely think Toledo has the tools to be very competitive in this one but I'm afraid Briante Weber is going to be in what I call "release the Kraken" mode for this one. One thing to keep an eye on is if the highly touted freshman class that VCU brought in gets a little too amped up in their first home game.