Texas will face their first true road test of the season when they travel to Richmond, Virginia to take on VCU. Shaka Smart will be making his return to VCU, where he was the head coach from 2009-2015 and lead the Rams to a final 4 appearance in 2011. The Longhorns will return to action after dispatching Florida A&M ,82-58, last Wednesday. In his weekly press conference, Smart emphasized how he is looking forward to taking his team on the road into a tough environment. “It will be an interesting experience to be on the visiting side in that arena, but again I’m most just looking forward to seeing how our guys respond to that atmosphere,” Smart said.
VCU is now led by Mike Rhoades, who is in his first season at the helm and was a former assistant under Smart. Rhoades took over the program after Will Wade left to become the head coach at LSU. Rhoades has led the Rams to a 5-3 record to begin the season, with losses to Virginia (76-67), Marquette (94-83) and Michigan (68-60). Smart commented on how he expects to see a similar style of play that he used while he was the head coach of the Rams. “They’ve really done a good job of implementing the style of play that we used in the past there,” Smart said.
VCU is led by seniors Jonathan Williams and Justin Tillman, both of whom played under Smart during their freshman seasons. Williams will man the point guard position, where he is averaging 12.4 points and 6.6 assists per game. Tillman stands at 6’8 and has the ability to stretch the floor, shooting 52.6% from 3 point range. Tillman is VCU’s leading scorer (15.5) and rebounder (7.4). The Longhorns will also be tasked with slowing down De’Riante Jenkins, who is shooting 47.5% from 3 and averaging 14.3 points per game. In injury news, the Rams may still be without starting Foward Issac Vann, who has missed the last 4 games with a high ankle sprain. Rhoades commented yesterday that Vann was not likely to return against the Longhorns.
A tough road environment will be a good test for freshmen Mo Bamba and Matt Coleman. Smart talked about how the Longhorns will need Coleman to continue to grow and make good decisions with the basketball in his hands. “I think he is doing a good job valuing the ball, knock on wood. That is going to be a huge key in this game with how VCU plays because they are going to try to come after him,” Smart said. Texas will also have to do a better job of shooting from deep and from the free throw line. Against Florida A&M, the Longhorns combined to shoot 21% from 3 (4-19) and 43.5% from the free throw line (10-23). Smart commented on how the Longhorns have to do a better job of carrying over their shooting performances in practice to games. “Our practice numbers in terms of shooting percentage live has been much better than the games. Now it’s just a matter of going and carrying it over.”
The game will tip off at 6 PM CST and will be broadcast on ESPN2.