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Game Preview: VCU @ UNCW

Historically two of the top programs in the conference yet headed in opposite directions, VCU and UNCW will tip it up for the second time this season after VCU handed the Seahawks a 23-point beatdown in Richmond way back in the middle of December. The Rams are looking to start a new winning streak after an impressive Bracketbusters win this past Friday night. UNCW is just looking for something to build on heading into the fast approaching CAA tournament after four straight losses.

Here’s the preview…

VCU (23-6, 13-3 CAA)
UNCW (9-18, 5-11 CAA)

This is the second meeting between the two this year, with VCU winning 87-64 at the Siegel Center. The Rams jumped out to a 13-point halftime lead and never looked back. In perhaps their most havoc wreaking performance of the season, VCU turned UNCW over 28 times, including 20 steals, 7 by junior point guard Darius Theus. The win also saw Treveon Graham’s breakout performance. The freshman hit double-digit scoring for the first time in his young career, posting 15 points in just 19 minutes of play. Ram fans would love another night like that from the promising freshman.

A quick look at UNCW: It’s been six years since a UNCW team reached the NCAA tournament, twice as long since a Buzz Peterson coached squad did the same. In his second year in Wilmington, Peterson would have to pull off a an upset of the Rams in order to match last season’s 7-11 conference record. The Seahawks boast one of the better bigs in the league in Keith Rendleman. The 6’7 junior is just one of three CAA players to average a double double, posting 15.2 points (6th in the CAA) and 10.6 rebounds (2nd) per game. Unfortunately for UNCW, the Seahawks only other consistent option outside of Rendleman has been freshman Adam Smith (repeat: freshman…so take consistent how you will), a 5’11 guard who can fill up the stat sheet at 14.7 points per contest. In their previous meeting Rendleman was once again good for a double double, 12 points 12 rebounds, but Smith was held to just five points on 2-10 shooting. UNCW’s second highest scorer in that game, K.K. Simmons, posted 11 points but also had seven turnovers on the night. VCU has also been inconsistent on offense, yet remain the third best scoring offense in the league. UNCW’s 12th-ranked D may be a welcome site for a VCU team looking for another big night after their 77-point performance this past Friday against Northern Iowa.

A quick look at VCU: The Rams were able to put a streak-snapping buzzer-beating loss against George Mason behind them when they survived a sharp-shooting Northern Iowa squad in their Bracketbusters matchup. Equally important will be putting a big win behind them and avoiding any type of trap against the Seahawks. Shaka has mentioned this team’s less emotional and more business-like approach to games, so no reason to think the Rams will be looking past UNCW here. Individually, the Rams have got to love the play out of Bradford Burgess of late. The Preseason All-CAA pick has heated up since a chilly late January, hitting double digits in his last four games, including two 22+ scoring nights. Burgess hit 52% of his shots over that span, including a 51% mark from long range.

Tale of the tape…

Scoring offense: VCU 67.8 points/game, UNCW 65.7

Scoring defense: VCU allowing 59 points/game, UNCW 70.9

Field goal %: UNCW 42%, VCU 41%

Field goal % defense: VCU 42%, UNCW 44%

3-Point field goal %: VCU 33%, UNCW 32%

3-Point field goal % defense: VCU 31%, UNCW 31%

Turnover margin: VCU +5.76, UNCW -2.41

 

VCU wins if: They aren’t caught looking ahead to Saturday’s rematch against George Mason. Trask Coliseum has been a tough place to win in the past, unfortunately for Seahawk fans, it hasn’t exactly been the greatest home court advantage this season. UNCW is just 5-7 on their home floor, with a 1-4 record against the top half of the conference, their lone win coming against Delaware, currently tied for fifth. Of course replicating their 20-steal performance from earlier this season won’t hurt the Rams chances either. Even when VCU has had a tough time turning teams over, they’ve stuck to the game plan and been able to wear down their opponent more times than not. UNCW is either greatly awaiting their shot at redemption, or having nightmares about bringing the ball up the court against VCU’s swarming press. If the Rams hit shots this one could get ugly.

UNCW wins if: They can 1) bring the ball up the court…and 2) hit shots like they did in their recent win against William & Mary. The three ball is the great equalizer in college hoops, so if Adam Smith and Tanner Milson can get hot again, the Seahawks have a shot at a late season CAA upset. UNCW comes into this one with the advantage on the glass as well, ranking 59th in the country with 36.9 rebounds per game. They’ll really need to play one of their best games against a VCU team who can win even when the shots aren’t falling, but as a 10-point dog, there certainly have been bigger upsets in college hoops this season.

Game tips 7PM Wednesday night. Listen to the action live on 107.3FM or watch at the ffficial VCU watch party at Baja Bean in the Fan.