Game Preview: VCU v Virginia Tech

VCU returns to the Coliseum for the first time since winning the 2012 CAA Tournament.

VCU returns to the Coliseum for the first time since winning the 2012 CAA Tournament.

It will have been roughly 18 years since VCU and Virginia Tech met on the hardwood, coincidentally a 62-57 home win for the Rams in what will be a now considered a neutral court Richmond Coliseum setting. At stake are state bragging rights as well as a one-game lead in the all time series, currently tied at 10. VCU will be looking for their second win of the season over an in-state ACC squad while the Hokies will simply look to add to their four-game winning streak in what’s supposed to be a rebuilding season in Blacksburg.

VCU (9-3)
VT (7-3)

A QUICK LOOK AT VIRGINIA TECH

Virginia Tech’s James Johnson is off to his second hot start in two seasons as head coach for the Hokies, but unlike last season will hope to keep the momentum going. VT ran off seven straight to start the 2012-13 season before winning just six more games to 19 losses to end it. Gone is leading scorer Eric Green, but in his absence the maroon and orange have stepped up as a group, raising team shooting percentages from inside and outside the arc. The Hokies have four double-digit scorers and are averaging eight more points per game (78) than last season’s team that included Green’s 25 points per contest. Th Gobblers are led by 6’7 senior, Jarell Eddie. Eddie is a threat from all over the court and shoots virtually the same amount of threes per game as shots in the paint.  His 48.6% clip from deep is tops on the team among players who have attempted more than two shots from long range, and as a group, VT’s 43.9% mark ranks sixth nationally. That ability to stretch defenses hasn’t translated to easy points in the paint however, as the Hokies have converted on 46.4% of their two-point shots, 254th nationally. On the defensive end however, Tech has been good at defending the paint, giving up just 42.2% shooting inside the arc to opposing teams. The Hokies have played a relatively week schedule thus far, having one top-100 win using kenpom’s rankings, a 87-82 victory over rival Western Virginia. They opened the season with a head-scratching one-point loss to UC Upstate, and were handled with relative ease by their top-ranked opponent, Michigan State.

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU

The black and gold got an improved defensive effort in their most recent win, all-be-it against an outmatched and undersized Wofford Terriers team. The Rams have struggled to defend the paint but due to a high number of steals/turnovers have been a statistically efficient defense this season. VCU leads the nation in steals and turnover percentage, but are surrendering 51.3% shooting inside the arc, a good portion of makes coming from the downside of a broken press. VCU took a step in the right direction against the Terriers however, holding them to just 13 makes on 35 attempts inside the arc. On offense the Rams have had issues inside the arc as well, connecting on just 46.6% of their two-point attempts (245th nationally) despite the presence of preseason A-10 First-Teamers Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic. When active, Reddic has been dominant, but more often than not as of late has been shut down, posting single-digit scoring and field goal attempts in three of his last four games. While the senior  Reddic has cooled as of late, freshman JeQuan Lewis has been heating up. Lewis has posted double-digit scoring in four of his last five contests and is scoring at a blistering pace, averaging 12.4 points in just 18 minutes per contest while shooting a team-high effective field goal percentage of 62.7%, the highest clip by any player under Shaka Smart.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Scoring Offense: VT 77.6, VCU 75.6
Scoring Defense: VCU 67.1, VT 69.6
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VT 53.4%, VCU 48.3%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VT 43.4%, VCU 50.6%
3-Point Field Goal%: VT 43.9%, VCU 34.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VT 30.3%, VCU 32.8%
Rebounds per game: VT 48.1, VCU 35.8
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 27.2%, VT 12.8%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 18.2%, VT 19.1%

VCU WINS IF

VCU needs a good old-fashioned havoc-field afternoon in the friendly confines of the Richmond Coliseum this Saturday to win. Virginia Tech has been deadly from long range, but you can’t get off that shot if you are unable to hold on to the ball. The Hokies have been prone to turning the ball over this season, averaging 13.6 per game (238th nationally), and have done so against teams that don’t typically turn you over (only two ranked 100 or better in that category). Their top turnover-forcing opponent, Winthrop (23rd nationally), got 18 out of Tech two games ago. With a VCU team that has struggled to connect in the halfcourt, the Rams will take all the fastbreak points they can get. Juvonte Reddic MUST assert himself in this one as well. The Rams are 3-3 in games Reddic scores in single digits, escaping UVA with a buzzer-beater, outlasting Eastern Kentucky at the Siegel Center in overtime, and most recently pulling away from Wofford. VCU can be a great team with Reddic, but so far have proven to be very average without him.

VIRGINIA TECH WINS IF

VT’s three-point shooting percentage looks headline worthy, but so far their best half of play–a 51-point second half explosion against West Virginia–featured just two made threes. The Rams have been terrible at defending the paint this season, so an overreaction to the Hokies’ range might play right into the hands of the Blacksburg bombers, creating lanes so wide they’d resemble the team’s trip home on 81 South after a potentially big non-conference win. The Hokies need to attack the basket and force VCU to score from range, two things the Rams have struggled at all season.

PREDICTIONS

Kenpom.com: 78-70 VCU win

Watch: NBC Sports Network. Official watch parties at Baja Bean Co. in the Fan as well as Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Listen: 107.3FM
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation

About Mat Shelton

VCU School of the Arts (BFA '07) and Center for Sport Leadership (M.Ed. '10) alumnus, Mat has followed VCU basketball since the Sunbelt days when he'd attend games with his father. Worked as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department for the '09-'10 season, but has covered VCU basketball for VCURamNation.com since 2007. mshelton@vcuramnation.com @MatShelton