Things get considerably more challenging this week when the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh fly into the Siegel Center.
After pummeling opponents by an average of 23.8 points per game over these past eight games, VCU will look to limit CJ McCollum, the nation’s leading scorer at 25.7 ppg, before heading into conference play next week. How good is McCollum? A reported 30 NBA scouts will be in the building, and as good as Troy Daniels’ 11 made threes in the previous game were, most of them will be there to watch the Lehigh standout.
VCU and Lehigh also share the distinction of being the last two teams to knock the most hated team in the land, the Duke Blue Devils, out of the NCAA tournament’s round of 64. The Rams doing so behind an Eric Maynor dagger in 2007, Lehigh this past season behind a 30-point afternoon from McCollum.
Here’s the preview…
The Nation’s 18th highest scoring offense, VCU, will take on the 12th best, Lehigh, in VCU’s final non-conference game of the season. The Rams are winners of eight straight and are 7-1 at home this season. Lehigh is 4-2 on the road with double-digit wins over BCS schools Pitt and Baylor, and double digit wins over a number of cupcakes. VCU is playing with a level of confidence perhaps not since since the Rams magical Final 4 run, Lehigh stumbles in after a 1-point home upset loss to the Bryant Bulldogs.
Kenpom gives VCU a 91% chance of winning with a predicted outcome of 86-69. The Mountain Hawks are currently No.88 in the RPI, and present another opportunity for a top-100 OOC win for VCU’s tournament resume.
A quick look at Lehigh: Lehigh returns their top three scorers from last season’s Patriot League champion squad that defeated Duke. They are led by McCollum who not only led the Hawks in points last season, but in rebounds as well, an impressive feat for the 6’3 guard. McCollum is deadly accurate, shooting over 50% from both in and outside of the arch and has averaged under 20 points per game only once in his college career…a 19.1 ppg average his freshman season. McCollum is joined by fellow senior Gabe Knutson who is second on the team with 16.5 points per game. The 6’9 forward is somewhat Skeen-like with his ability to step back and hit the long ball, hitting 52.9% of his 17 attempts from deep this season. And that is something Lehigh does VERY well. The Mountain Hawks are tops in the nation at three-point percentage, hitting 44.8% as a team. On offense the Hawks aren’t particularly effective in cleaning up missed shots, but then again when you makes as many as they do you don’t have to be. That said, they are even worse on the defensive end (very bad in fact), giving up 38.8% of available rebounds.
A quick look at VCU: The Rams are on a roll since returning from the Bahamas and have been implementing their havoc system with extreme efficiency. VCU’s 13.2 steals per game ranks No.1 in college basketball, stealing the ball 18.9% of opponents possessions. Sophomore (yes…sophomore) Briante Weber leads that charge, averaging 3.4 ins just 21.9 minutes per game, good for the highest steals percentage in all of college basketball. As scary as their defense has been for opposing teams, what the Rams are adding with their offense has got to give opposing coaches nightmares. Troy Daniels 3.85 made threes per game ranks fifth in college basketball, a number that’s been on the rise since averaging nine over his last three contests including breaking his own record of nine makes just two nights ago with 11 made threes against ETSU. Daniel’s is averaging an eye-popping 28.3 ppg over that span. What has to have Ram fans licking their chops is the fact that Daniels remains just our third leading scorer. Sophomore Treveon Graham has been a model of consistently, somewhat quietly leading the Rams in scoring at 14.6 a night, followed by Juvonte Reddic’s 14.3 ppg average. On the season Daniels is up to 14.1 ppt, but has shot his way to Kenpom.com’s highest offensive rating in the Atlantic 10. VCU has four players in Kenpom’s top 12 (Daniels, Graham, Weber and Reddic).
Tale of the Tape…
Scoring Offense: Lehigh 81.4 ppg, VCU 79.9
Scoring Defense: VCU 59.6 points allowed, Lehigh 71.1
Field Goal%: Lehigh 48.2%, VCU 45.8%
Field Goal% Defense: VCU 42.4%, Lehigh 43%
3-Point Field Goal%: Lehigh 44.8%, VCU 38.3%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 28.6%, Lehigh 30.7%
Rebounding Margin: VCU +4.2, Lehigh -5.2
Turnover Margin: VCU +8.71, Lehigh +3.3
VCU wins if: The Rams can impose their will on a team who just took a confidence blow against a lesser opponent. A 1-point home loss is a terrible warmup for entering a rowdy Siegel Center against a team who’s made a name off “wreaking havoc on an opponents psyche”. Lehigh shoots the three well and holds on to the ball. VCU defends the three well and is the best team in the country at turning teams over. Something has to give. I’m of the opinion that 7,600+ screaming fans tilt that battle in VCU’s favor. Oh, and if Troy Daniels hits another 9+ threes…that certainly won’t hurt.
Lehigh wins if: Someone other than McCollum posts a career game. VCU will have a tough enough time trying to shut down McCollum, they can’t have a breakout game from a Mackey McKnight. Make McCollum Gary Neal. We don’t want the superstar posting 30 on us, but we also don’t need so much attention paid to McCollum that we get killed by some silent assassin. The Rams have the benefit of having terrific defensive guards in Theus, Weber and Brandenberg. A platoon of the three will enjoy the challenge of shutting down one of the nation’s best. On the other end, McCollum will have the task of proving his pro value against one of the nation’s best college defenses.
Game tips at 5PM Saturday.