After picking up its first win of the 2019-20 season, the No. 23 ranked LSU men’s basketball team travels east for an intriguing nonconference game against Will Wade’s former team, the VCU Rams.
The Rams have been a Mid Major power this decade. The program first rose to national prominence when Shaka Smart, now leading the Texas Longhorns, took VCU to its first ever Final Four in 2011. Smart would coach a total of six seasons at VCU compiling a 163-56 record, a winning percentage of 74. Wade took over for Smart in 2015 and kept the Rams NCAA Tournament appearance streak intact for the two seasons he was coaching. In Wade’s first season, VCU won its first ever Atlantic 10 regular season championship.
Mike Rhoades took over for Wade and the Rams missed the NCAA tournament in 2018, snapping its seven year streak. But Rhoades got VCU back into tournament in 2019, winning 25 games and 16 A10 games and was named the conference’s coach of the year last season.
Whether it’s Rhoades, Wade or Smart, the Rams are one of the best basketball programs in the country. VCU’s made all but one NCAA tournament this decade and started the year ranked 25th in the initial AP Poll. VCU, despite winning its first two games of the season, dropped out of the AP Top 25 but has the most “others receiving votes” votes. The Rams are essentially No. 26 in the country, a more than worthy adversary for LSU.
Like most quality teams at the Mid Major level, the Rams have a veteran core. Forwards Marcos Santos-Silva and Issac Vann are a redshirt senior and junior respectively, while guards De’riante Jenkins, Mike’l Simms and Marcus Evans are all seniors.
Santos-Silva has been a force inside so far for the Rams. Through two games, Santos-Silva is averaging 12 points and 12.5 rebounds; most impressively of the 25 rebounds he’s grabbed, 10 have been on the offensive end. He’s a load standing at 6’7” and 250 pounds. He’s slightly taller than Emmitt Williams and Darius Days and he’s got 15 pounds on Trendon Watford so I’m curious how Wade plans on attacking the painted area.
In the back court, the Rams have been led in scoring by Jenkins and Evans. Evans transferred to VCU from Rice after being named the C-USA’s Freshman of the Year in 2016 and was First Team All-CUSA in 2016 and 17. Evans can score, he only needed 49 games at Rice to cross the 1,000 point career mark which is a C-USA record. In the 67 total games he played for the Owls, Evans averaged 20 points a night. After overcoming a pair of Achilles surgeries, Evans led the Rams in scoring last season with 13.6 points a game. He’d be named a First Team All-Conference member for his efforts last season.
Jenkins has been the leading scorer through VCU’s first two games, averaging 14 points to start the season. Jenkins and Evans have different abilities to score and it compliments the two perfectly. Jenkins is hitting 56 percent of his shots and made eight of nine free throws but has only made a quarter of his threes. Evans, on the other hand, has made five of eight threes, but is only making a third of his free throws.
What’s most curious about the VCU back court is that, despite the group being so experienced, the Rams have turned it over an average of 18 times a game. Perhaps its owed to the fast pace the Rams play at, but VCU has been careless with the ball in games against lesser competition and now face the defending SEC champions.
There’s layers to Wednesday night. Wade going up against his former team. It’s a nationally televised game against two top-30 programs. A heavy hitter from a power five conference is going to one of the best Mid Major’s home venues. The winner of Wednesday’s game will get an early Quadrant-1 win that the selection committee values so heavily come March. We’ll find out a lot about LSU over the course of those 40 minutes. What exactly that is remains to be seen.