Melvin Johnson, Treveon Graham, Rob Brandenberg

VCU’s half court scoring issues becoming a concern?

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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)

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.