Melvin Johnson, Treveon Graham, Rob Brandenberg

VCU’s half court scoring issues becoming a concern?


In a thrilling game down in Richmond, Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams outlasted a tough Eastern Kentucky team in overtime, beating the Colonels 71-68.

Treveon Graham led four players in double-figures with 15 points and Rob Brandenburg knocked down four threes, including a huge three to kick off the overtime period. That would be the only points scored in the extra frame until the final minutes, as both teams traded stifling defensive possessions and forced charges.

EKU is a good team. They’ll battle it out with Belmont — another team that gave VCU fits — for the Ohio Valley Conference title. But if VCU is really going to be a top 25 team, if they really are the favorite to win what’s shaping up to be a strong Atlantic 10, they shouldn’t be getting pushed to overtime at home by Eastern Kentucky. By anyone, really.

All things considered, the Rams haven’t been all that impressive early on this season. They got blown out by Florida State. They were beaten by Georgetown. They struggled against Long Beach State and they were down 12 in the second half against Belmont.

So what’s up with VCU?

Well, they still aren’t great defensively in the half court, but that kind of comes with the territory when you press as much as VCU does. They gamble that they’ll be able to get more steals than you’ll get layups, and that in the process they’ll wear you down. In fact, they’ve gotten better on that end of the floor now that they are a better defensive rebounding team.

Where VCU is hurting a bit this season is offensively. They’re turning the ball over more this year. They aren’t getting to the offensive glass as often. Without Troy Daniels on the floor, they don’t have a knock-down three-point shooter on the roster. They’re more reliant on their defense forcing turnovers, allowing them to score in transition. Last year, 18.2% of VCU’s offensive possessions came in transition. This season it’s 23.2%. Last year, they scored 0.900 PPP in the half court, in the 85th percentile nationally. This year, they’re scoring 0.848 PPP, a pretty significant drop off.*

The thinking in the preseason was that VCU may struggle with the new foul calls affecting their defense, but in reality it hasn’t.

Excuse the coach-speak, but who on this VCU team is a ‘bucket-getter’?

It’s showing.

*(Stats via Synergy)

Brooks’ big game leads No. 15 Oregon over Fresno State 78-73

Dillon Brooks, Torren Jones
AP Photo/Chris Pietsch
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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Dillon Brooks had 21 points and 10 rebounds and No. 15 Oregon staved off a late rally by Fresno State for a 78-73 victory Monday night.

Chris Boucher and Elgin Cook added 14 points each for the Ducks (6-0), who led 70-52 with 6:35 to play before Marvelle Harris scored 13 points in a 16-2 run by the Bulldogs (5-1) that cut the deficit to four.

A driving layup by Brooks put Oregon up 74-68 with 1:20 left, and the Ducks held on by making four of six free throws in the final 45 seconds.

Harris, who didn’t score until the 12:04 mark of the second half, led Fresno State with 18 points, while Paul Watson added 11 and Torren Jones had 10 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bulldogs won the rebounding battle 41-32 behind Jones and Karachi Edo, who had nine rebounds and 10 points.

Freshman Tyler Dorsey, Oregon’s leading scorer at 15.2 points per game, finished with 12.

The Ducks scored the game’s first 11 points, went up by as many as 14 and took a 37-25 halftime lead. The Ducks did most of the damage from inside the 3-point arc (9 of 10) and at the free throw line, outscoring the Bulldogs 13-5.

Fresno State, meanwhile, missed its first six shots from the field, shot 29.0 percent (9 of 31) and saw its top two scorers, Harris and Cezar Guerrero, held scoreless for the first 20 minutes.

The senior guards came in averaging 20.2 and 13.2 points per game, respectively.


Fresno State: Harris, the preseason choice for Mountain West Conference player of the year, needed one point to crack the Bulldog’s all-time top 10 in scoring. After going scoreless in the first half, he finished with 18 to rank 10th with 1,425, one behind Tod Bernard in ninth place, in 107 career games. . The Bulldogs fell to 2-10 all-time against Oregon. They last time they beat the Ducks, who have won the last five meetings, was in 1995. . Fresno State hasn’t beaten a Top 25 team on the road since 2000.

Oregon: The double-double was the second of the season Brooks and fourth of his career. . The Ducks are 40-2 against nonconference opponents since moving into Matthew Knight Arena five years ago. . The 6-0 start is Oregon’s second in the last nine years. The Ducks started 13-0 two seasons ago.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.