Wednesday, November 20, 2013

VMI Review: Early Season Tournament Championship Boosts Keydets Outlook

By BToole

As of the time of this writing the Virginia Military Institute Keydets are 3-1 and claimed the championship of the annual All-Military Classic which was held in Lexington, VA. VMI won their first in-season tournament championship since 1978 by beating the Citadel in the opener and the Air Force Academy in the championship game. VMI dropped their first road game at Wake Forest, and rebounded by overwhelming Division II opponent Bluefield State college (W.Va).

The two victories in the All-Military Classic were buoyed by a surprising strong defensive performance against both the Citadel and the USAFA, as well as the outstanding start by freshman QJ Peterson. VMI was able to hold their own on the boards against the bigger Citadel and USAFA squads. While rebounding is not the most telling statistic for VMI because of the style of play, it certainly helps their defensive efforts when they can prevent second chance points. While the defensive performance was good early this year, VMI struggled to shoot the ball, particularly from behind the arc. Prior to the blowout win against Bluefield State, VMI was shooting 36.5% from the field, and 24.2% from 3pfg. This is the telling statistic that needs to improve, and the squad did that against Bluefield State by making 17 3pfg’s. VMI travels to Va Tech to play the Hokies on Monday night.

The tournament championship was absolutely a phenomenal experience for the VMI faithful. Over the past 7 years, VMI has been an extremely competitive squad and has had some of the most prolonged success in any sport that the Institute has experienced. However, VMI continued to come up short of truly capturing the elusive championship. VMI has lost the BS tournament championship 3 times in the last 7 years. Two years ago VMI played for the All-Military Classic and got beat handedly by USAFA. To win this tournament to begin the season boosts the hope that this may be the year to end the post-season drought. Additionally, it was really fulfilling because it gained some national exposure. Jordan Weethee’s highlight dunk was replayed on Sportscenter over and over. QJ Peterson was named Tournament MVP, while Rodney Glasgow also earned All-tournament first team.  

Freshman QJ Peterson has been the surprising performer of the early season. Peterson is averaging 21.3 ppg, while managing 14  steals through the first 4 games. Rodney Glasgow and DJ Covington remain the focal points, however you can see where the bright future of VMI basketball in Peterson. The 6’0 guard from Hedgesville W.Va prepped at Massanutten Military Academy prior to matriculating at VMI. Thus far, the most noticeable attribute has been his fearlessness that he has demonstrated throughout the early season. During the second half of the opener against Citadel, VMI was trailing and seemed lethargic. Peterson started a critical run early in the second half with two 3pfg’s and finished with 18 second half points (22 overall). There is always to be expected some ups and downs for freshman (“rats”) at the Institute during their first year. However, Peterson has not played like a freshman thus far and seems will play a central role to any success the Keydets have this year.

In addition to already playing and beating the Citadel, VMI will play SoCon member Elon on December 3. The SoCon teams have traditionally been bigger than VMI and play a tough brand of basketball. That was evident during Elon’s last trip to Lexington, VA. While VMI pulled out a 90-81 win against the Phoenix, it took a 30point and 16 rebound effort by Stan Okoye.  Elon scored 32 points in the paint and VMI will have to continue to rebound the basketball to prevent second chance points, as well as maintain the pace that Duggar Baucom wants to play.

VMI’s style of play has invigorated the program and quite frankly made the team more competitive. VMI suffered some very poor years in the early part of the 2000’s. The style of play can be frustrating at times, especially with a tight lead in the late minutes, but it is always exciting. Observers to VMI games, must adjust how they view time and score when watching the Keydets. Seven point deficits are more like three point deficits and 12 point leads are more like 4 point leads. While VMI has yet to reach the NCAA tournament, Coach Baucom has provided stability and interest in the VMI basketball program.
As the season moves forward, VMI must continue to shoot the ball like they did during their most recent game. It is critical to the style of play, and made field goals allow the press to be set and effective. Coach Baucom has played four freshman extensively, while going deep in the bench. Hopefully, the early season success gives the team the boost to live in the upper echelon of the Big South in their final year.

Finally, VMI got another bit of good news. Jon Elmore, son of VMI great Gay Elmore has committed to VMI for next year. Elmore is likely to be a point guard at the next level, but is an extremely talented all around offensive player. His dad was twice the SoCon player of the year. Jon’s older brother Ot is currently a rat on the VMI roster and will likely redshirt this year. In addition to QJ Peterson’s early season success, the future looks bright for VMI basketball.

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