Game preview: No.24 VCU at Xavier
VCU looks to rebound from their worst game in over a year, coming off a 14-point road loss at Saint Louis that was more lopsided than even the final score suggests.
The Rams will attempt to bounce back against a Xavier squad who has yet to lose a home game in A-10 play, and is coming of a 13-point road win at Rhode Island following and 11-point loss at bitter rival Dayton.
This game has major A-10 tournament implications. A loss would drop VCU to 9-4 in conference play, dropping the Rams behind Xavier due to the head-to-head tie-braker in the Atlantic 10 standings, and with a La Salle win at Rhode Island, would put VCU on the outside looking in for a first-round A-10 tournament bye.
A win on the other hand would put the Rams two games ahead of their next closest competitors, and with just three games to play (two at the Siegel Center), in a much better position for a Thursday off come A-10 tourny time. It would also give VCU a top-100 road win to help the Rams’ cause come selection Sunday.
VCU (21-6, 9-3)
Xavier (15-10, 8-4)
A quick look at Xavier: The Musketeers find themselves in a rare rebuilding season (as opposed to the usual reload), losing the likes of Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, Dez Wells, Andre Walker, and Kenny Frease to graduation or transfer. Despite those losses, X is very much a contender at 8-4 in the conference, including impressive home wins over the likes of Temple, La Salle and Butler in an odd non-conference game between the two new A-10 foes. A good bit of that success can be pinned directly to likely A-10 Rookie of the Year, Samaj Christon. The 4-star New Hampshire native came to Xavier as the No.3 rated point guard in his class, and No.31 overall recruit in the country, and so far, has lived up to the hype at 15.2 points and 4.4 assists per game. Senior forward Travis Taylor joins Christon as the Musketeers only other double-digit scorer at 11.8 ppg on a team that ranks 15th in the A-10 in scoring at 64.7 points per game. What X has lacked in offense at times, they have made up for in defense, giving up just 61.2 ppg, good for second behind Saint Louis among A-10 teams. Chris Mack’s defense is also second in field goal percentage (40.4%), 3-point field goal percentage (31.2%) and rebounding (29.7).
A quick look at VCU: VCU suffered their worst loss of the season after an ice-cold start to Tuesday’s road tilt at Saint Louis, hitting just three of their first 22 attempts and scoring a mere nine points some 16 minutes into the contest. When the Rams can’t score, they can’t press, and thus turned the Billikens over eight times and were never able to rattle SLU the way the Rams had their previous five opponents. VCU didn’t give up however, outscoring SLU 41-38 in the second half, all be it too little too late after the rough first half that essentially put the game out of reach. The Rams halfcourt defense struggled throughout, and will need to be much improved against a Xavier team that loves to attack the basket with the 6’3 Christon. Treveon Graham had one of his roughest games of the season in that loss at Saint Louis (PS. Saint Louis HATES when you call them St. Louis), hitting just 4-of-16 attempts but finished the game with an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double. Graham and Co. will look to get back on track and prove they can beat another good team on the road. VCU has just one top-100 road win on the season.
Tale of the Tape…
Scoring Offense: VCU 77.5, Xavier 64.7
Scoring Defense: Xavier 61.2, VCU 63.4
Field Goal%: Xavier 46.2%, VCU 45.1%
Field Goal% Defense: Xavier 40.4%, VCU 43.7%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 34.8%, Xavier 34.2%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: Xavier 31.2%, VCU 32.2%
Rebounding Margin: Xavier +5.2, VCU +1.2
Turnover Margin: VCU +7.93, Xavier -0.8
VCU wins if: Our guards show up. Juvonte Reddic and Treveon Graham have been models of consistency. These guys are dropping double-doubles in their bad games, which is a heck of a luxury. But as it’s been all season, the Rams need an extra threat (or two). My favorite threat has been Troy Daniels because his baskets are generally good for a point more than anyone else’s, and when Daniels is on, this team seems to feed off his energy. VCU’s average margin of victory when Troy Daniels scores 20 or more points is an insane +29.2 points (five games total). That said, you could open up a cupcake shop in Carytown with those opponents, so it’s up to Troy to prove he can have big games against big opponents. There will be no ETSU’s in the NCAA tournament. On defense VCU’s guards will have to have one of their better games as well. The Rams frontcourt has struggled to defend attacking guards in the halfcourt, and that just so happens to be Semaj Christon’s specialty.
Xavier wins if: As with any team who plays the Rams, the key is holding on to the ball. But before that, as SLU proved, if you can keep VCU from scoring, you can keep the Rams out of the press. Xavier would love to dicate the pace of Saturday’s game, and that includes locking down on defense to avoid the chaos that typically ensues a VCU make. As good as Christon has been this season, he’s still a freshman point guard playing in a key game in front 10,000+ fans. He’s also turned the ball over 3.7 times per game, good for dead last in the Atlantic 10 this season. VCU’s challenge is to attempt to exploit that weakness.