This game can’t come soon enough… for both teams.
VCU lost a 62-61 heartbreaker on Valentine’s Day when George Mason guard Sharrod Wright heaved up a buzzer beating 3-pointer with no time left on the clock. Northern Iowa? Coming of a 63-62 loss when surprise…Evansville guard Denver Holmes banked in a 3-point game winner with just 0.6 left on the clock.
Two teams trying to put tough losses behind them with the national glare of the ESPN2 cameras in a primetime Friday night Brackestbusters contest.
Here’s the preview:
VCU (22-6, 13-3 CAA)
Northern Iowa (17-11, 7-9 MVC)
This will be the first meeting between the two but both have become quite familiar with the competition level in each other’s respective conference. The Rams got a huge road win at fellow Missouri Valley Conference member Wichita State en route to last year’s NCAA tournament bid, Northern Iowa has drawn CAA teams in consecutive season — Old Dominion in 2010, George Mason last year — defeating them both, and kicked off this year’s season with a 63-46 road drubbing of the Monarchs in Norfolk.
A quick look at Northern Iowa: The Panthers started the season hot, winning 10 of their first 11 games including the aforementioned road beatdown of Old Dominion and three non-con Ws over BCS schools. UNI hit the breaks fast however, losing their first two MVC contests, setting the tone of a disappointing 7-9 conference stretch from the Panthers. A very hot/cold club, Northern Iowa was able to pull together a win over previously ranked Creighton, while falling double-digits to a relatively dreadful Bradley (7-21) squad. Which will show up against the Rams remains to be seen. Like VCU, UNI has no real dominant scorer, yet a group of guys who can all hit shots. The Panthers are lead by 6′ junior guard Anthony James. James plays the role of 6th man, yet leads the team at 13 points/contest. Northern Iowa leads the MVC in scoring defense, holding opposing teams to just under 62 points per game in a conference with three teams averaging 70 points or more, and do a great job of holding on to the ball on the other end, turning it over just 10.8 times a game, a turnover less than any current team in the CAA. As Ram fans, you are probably also aware of the big similarity VCU and Northern Iowa share by now. Just a season prior to VCU’s magical run through NCAA tournament history, Northern Iowa buried Kansas’ tournament hopes as well. Over under on how many times that’s mentioned in tomorrow night’s game? Could be a fun drinking game for those watching on TV.
A quick look at VCU: You’re Ram fans, you’ve been to the games, so let’s not go into a lot of detail on this one alright? The main thing I’m interested to see is how sophomore bigs Juvonte Reddic and DJ Haley bounce back from their struggles at Mason. There, the twin towers were held to a combined six points on just 2-of-11 shooting, and five total rebounds (that’s the same amount as Rob Brandenberg posted in his 26 minutes of play, three less than Troy Daniels). Mason seniors Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson are capable of doing that to an opposing teams bigs. Reddic and Haley will look to have better luck against the UNI combo of freshman Seth Tuttle (6’9, 210, 5.2 rebounds) and Jake Koch (6’9, 245, 5.5 rebounds).
Tale of the tape…
Scoring offense: VCU 67.4 points/game, UNI 66
Scoring defense: VCU allowing 58.7 points/game, UNI 61.8
Field goal %: UNI 44%, VCU 41%
Field goal % defense: VCU 41%, UNI 44%
3-Point field goal %: 39% UNI, 33% VCU
3-Point field goal % defense: VCU 30%, UNI 36%
Turnover margin: VCU +5.68, UNI +1.93
VCU wins if: They create points off turnovers. When you think UNI, think a more skilled version of William & Mary. Those are the types of teams that give the Rams fits in the halfcourt. VCU will have to keep the Panthers out of their groove by attacking their guards in the full court, and taking the fight straight to Northern Iowa. The Rams win when they create havoc and get those points off turnovers, when they put that 12-0 run together in seemingly 30 seconds of play. Avoid the shooting contest and make this one a track meet.
Northern Iowa wins if: The Rams allow UNI space to make the open shots they’ll need to win it. The Panthers hit 11-of-21 in their win against Creighton, including 2-of-5 from 6’9 forward Jake Koch. VCU needs to talk, and play a more disciplined game than one you’d expect from the 8th-youngest team in the country. If not, it may be bombs away for UNI. And after seeing Mason drop three of those in the last thirty seconds of our last loss, I get the feeling avoiding that type of punishment will be a great point of emphasis for Shaka’s group heading into this one.
Game tips at 7PM at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C Siegel Center and is viewable on ESPN2.