The Charlotte 49ers left Philadelphia this Wednesday with a one point loss (89-88) to the Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Week and Temple Owls point guard, Khalif Wyatt. In order to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time this season Charlotte (17-5, 5-3) will have to forget their recent shortcomings and prepare to battle yet another A10 giant in the VCU Rams (18-5, 6-2).
Although VCU is littered with scoring threats, the player earning the most recent accolades is Juvonte Reddic. Two things the VCU junior forward and Wyatt have in common: They share the award of Player of the Week from Jan. 28- Feb. 3 and as of late tomorrow night they will have both played the 49ers in the following week.
Reddic is a different animal in comparison to Wyatt, and VCU's style of play is an even larger difference from Temple's. The fast-paced, high-pressure system they operate with has helped Reddic become a force down low this year (14.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg). Reddic's complete repertoire of skills also allows him to be a constant threat for steals and blocks every game.
A key difference the 49ers will notice with the Rams in contrast to Temple is VCU's depth. Rams Head Coach Shaka Smart has built a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender with the Rams. Willie Clayton commented about what the 49ers are preparing most for against VCU, "We'll be prepared against their press, they're a team that likes to press a lot."
Charlotte has continued to surprise this year, despite all the excuses they have at their disposal. With a very young team it's always hard to gauge expectations, and despite the problems they've recently encountered on the road, they seem to handle the big moments with poise.
"Everybody [on the team] has played in front of big crowds before," Clayton touched on the troubles Charlotte has had away from home, "What I think it is, is we're such a young team and we don't have that somebody on the court that can say 'look I've been here' to pull everybody together."
Just as the 49ers tough portion of conference season started, an integral part to the team, in DeMario Mayfield, was suspended. Charlotte Head Coach Alan Major has lectured his team and the media on his benches "next- man-up mentality," and they proved him right, being essential parts to the team's accomplishments since.
The two reoccurring themes about the Charlotte 49ers basketball team this season is that they are going to play aggressive defense, whether that be the reason they win or lose, and they're always going to keep you entertained.
They exceed expectations, surprise in the greatest and worst ways, and they do it with their own personal flair. It was nice to see Chris Braswell getting some point production against Temple. 49ers' fans have become so accustomed to his consistency in the paint during his time at Charlotte that it was strange to see him struggle for multiple games in Atlantic 10 play this season. The 49ers hope he can string together some more high-scoring performances similar to the close loss at Temple. He is averaging a team-high 12 points per game; he is also second on the team in rebounding behind Clayton.
Speaking of Clayton, he is averaging 7 rebounds, and 8.1 points per game. Clayton prides himself on the passion he plays with, and knows that his knack for retaining the boards is a result of his enthusiasm. "I expect Niner Nation to be loud, and they can expect me to get rebounds," he said after their practice Friday.
Pierria Henry is the hub of the 49ers ball movement, and if anyone on the team is in competition with Clayton on defensive drive then it's the Charlotte guard. Henry has 80 assists on the year, a team best, and averages 9 points, 2.9 steals and 4.7 rebounds per game.
It will be interesting to see how other inexperienced players like E. Victor Nickerson, Darion Clark and Denzel Ingram handle these next two contests, which will arguably be the best teams Charlotte will face all year in VCU and Butler.
VCU has two guards that, together, can compete with the best backcourts in college basketball. Treveon Graham is the team's leading scorer, averaging 16.1 ppg. Troy Daniels is the other exciting guard, one of just two seniors for the Rams; Daniels can be a deadly three-point shooter, 47 percent of the shots he attempt are from beyond the arc and he converts on 40 percent of his three-point opportunities.
The only other senior on the team is guard, Darius Theus; unlike the previously mentioned backcourt members for VCU, Theus is not as intimidating of a scorer. That doesn't mean he's not a threat on the court, he leads the team by far in assists (4.5 apg ) and averages 2.6 steals a game while not always getting starter minutes.
If you are starting to notice a trend here, the Rams might have more talented guards than they know what to do with, and there's no exception considering Rob Brandenberg. The junior guard doesn't get nearly the same amount of playing time as the others mentioned, but he doesn't let that effect his contribution; Brandenberg still finds a way to average over ten points a game.
Perhaps one of the most impressive things from all of the players collectively is that they fill the stat sheet up across the board. Even the guards get some blocks, everyone contributes to assists, and the tenacity on defense allows them to create plenty of turnovers by the opposition.
The point is, Charlotte's not going to have it easy on Saturday; matter of fact, after their game against VCU it only gets harder as the 49ers then travel to play Butler next Wednesday. Charlotte plays the Rams at Halton Arena Saturday, 7 pm.