Versatility so vital: Rams depth proving pivotal

Quinn Casteel
Staff Writer

When discussing leading scorers on most teams, usually it’s one or two names that come to mind.

Many of the top programs in the country rely on 20 or 25 every single night from their stars. A top 25 team, such as Connecticut, gets 24 ppg from Kemba Walker, but when he has a rough outing – as all players do – they struggle to win games.

The same can be said for ninth-ranked BYU, which has received 27 a game from Jimmer Fredette.

However, the same can’t be said for VCU.

At least four names have to be mentioned this season when talking about the Rams’ top offensive threats. Jamie Skeen and Bradford Burgess lead the team with over 14 ppg apiece, closely followed by Brandon Rozzell who averaged 13 a game before breaking his hand almost four weeks ago.

Rozzell’s injury gave way to the rise of Rob Brandenberg, who put his name in the discussion with two 20-point outbursts against William & Mary and Georgia State.

Joey Rodriguez has been lights-out in stretches as well, topping 20 points three different times, including 28 against Towson and 25 in the homecoming matchup against UNC Wilmington.

All five of the aforementioned players have at least two 20-plus point performances, a remarkable feat for any team.

With so many legitimate scoring threats, it’s very hard for opposing coaches to pick a player to focus on defensively. And when they do pick someone, the Rams have shown that they have no problem looking elsewhere for production.

For example, take the ODU game two Saturdays ago; Brandenberg was coming off two dominant performances, which made it obvious he would receive extra attention. He was ineffective against ODU, going 0-3 from three, so Smart only gave him only 14 minutes despite his recent heroics.

Instead, VCU looked to Burgess and Ed Nixon who showed that they were the better shooters on the day.

Any one of these players can carry the offense on a given night, but what is just as impressive is that they do their part to help the team win, even when it’s not their night to score. Instead, they may contribute with big plays on defense or on the boards. No one has a minimum or maximum number of shot attempts set for them, which allows everyone to get opportunities for big games.

A great deal of the credit for that has to go to Rodriguez.

The Florida product has an uncanny ability to know when to distribute and when to take things into his own hands. In nine of VCU’s 23 games this season, Rodriguez took seven shots or less. Against New Hampshire on Dec. 30, he took just one shot and did not record a point, but he racked up eight assists.

Inversely, the three games in which he took 14 or more shots are also his top three scoring performances to date, and not surprisingly, are among his most efficient shooting nights.

The leadership is telling.

“The seniors and Brad have really taken ownership of the team, and when you do that, it makes it easier on the road, easier on the coaches,” Rodriguez said. “That’s really it, taking responsibility.”

VCU’s versatility has allowed them to lead the CAA with nearly 75 points a game, despite some poor shooting performances and injuries to key players. And Rodriguez, in typical fashion, was modest when explaining the team’s scoring parity.

“That,” Rodriguez said, “is just how the chips fall.”

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