When the VCU men’s basketball team suits up for its third Atlantic 10 conference game, it will be different from the previous two. The Rams will welcome the Saint Joseph’s Hawks, picked preseason No. 1 in the A-10, to the Siegel Center for a late game Thursday evening.
“Saint Joe’s has a really good team (and) good players,” Coach Shaka Smart said. “It’s a veteran team that’s been around and been through the wars of the Atlantic 10 … it’s going to be an exciting game.”
Smart knows that although the game will be an exciting one, it will be one of their toughest tests of the season. The Hawks have a team with four players averaging double-digit points this season and six players averaging over 30 minutes a game.
“They do a lot of things well,” Smart said. “First of all, they have some terrific offensive weapons.”
One of those weapons to watch for is senior guard Carl Jones, a player who Smart calls a “mini-Allen Iverson.” Jones averages 14.8 points per game, which is tied for the team high. The Rams are going to have to keep his scoring under control if they are looking for a victory.
“Carl Jones is on pace to be one of (Saint Joseph’s) top scorers in the program’s history, if not the top scorer,” said coach Smart.
“There are some great players in the A-10 … and (Jones) is one of them,” said senior point guard Darius Theus. “We’ve just got to do our job … whatever Coach Smart needs us to do, we’ll do it.”
Fellow guard Langston Galloway is the player who Jones is tied with for the Hawks’ most points per game. While the Rams have their designated shooter, Troy Daniels, the Hawks have Galloway who scored more threes than Daniels did last season.
Not only does Saint Joseph’s have plenty of scoring options, they have solid players on the defensive side. The one to watch is C.J. Akin, the tallest player on the roster.
“Akins (is) an NBA prospect at 6-foot-9, can shoot from outside (and) can handle the ball,” Smart said “I was talking to a different coach in the Atlantic 10 and he described C.J. Akin as one of the top 20 shot blockers on the planet, and that includes the NBA.”
The Rams know they can’t take Saint Joseph’s lightly if they want to win on Thursday. Daniels and the rest of the team feel like now that they’re ranked, they’ve got even more to prove.
With that ranking, teams are going to want to beat them even more for a quality win on their resumes come tournament time. Saint Joseph’s is no different.
“We expect them to come in and play hard. We definitely have an ‘X’ on our back, so we just have to go out there and play like we know how to play and wreak havoc,” Daniels said. “Saint Joe’s is going to give us their best shot.”
Smart thinks the biggest challenge playing Saint Joseph’s and other A-10 opposition is the unfamiliarity with all of the teams and not knowing their style of play.
“I think it’s a double-edged sword because they don’t know us either,” he said. “It’s a challenge for both teams … it’ll be interesting to see how this works out as the season goes on.”
With a win Thursday night, the Rams would continue their venture through conference play with an undefeated record before heading out on the road for more A-10 action.