Game Preview: VCU at Charlotte

8439021973_c0db4c113d_bVCU looks to stay atop the Atlantic 10 standings this Saturday, traveling to former Sunbelt and Metro conference rival Charlotte for a 7PM tip against the 49ers.

The Rams look to extend their win streak to three games after defeating Rhode Island and Fordham, this time against a game Charlotte squad who have jumped out to a surprising 17-5 (5-3) start after finishing last season 13-17 with a 5-11 A-10 record.

Charlotte heads into this one after back-to-back battles, a 66-65 home win over UMass followed by an 89-88 road loss at Temple.

The Niners have faired just as well as VCU against common opponents, winning at Rhode Island and at home against Fordham, while losing at Richmond by 20, however defeating La Salle in Charlotte by nine–VCU lost to the Explorers by eight in Richmond.

Charlotte should be without junior guard DeMario Mayfield. Mayfield was second on the team in scoring at 11.7 points per game but has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of athletic department policy.

Here’s the preview…

VCU (18-5, 6-2)
Charlotte (17-5, 5-3)

A quick look at Charlotte: Niners Coach Alan Major has got to be one of the frontrunners for A-10 Coach of the Year at this point after turning around his squad a season before they bolt back to the Sunbelt Conference. Charlotte was picked to finish 12th in the league this preseason, but have already matched last season’s A-10 win total and are floating around the 50s in the RPI heading into Saturdays game. Charlotte has gotten things done by mostly being a complete pest on D, holding opponents to an A-10 best 39% field goal percentage (the only A-10 team below 40%), their season-long effective field goal percentage of 44.4% ranking 34th in the nation. A major defensive factor for Charlotte has been former VCU commit Perria Henry. At 2.9 steals per game, it’s no wonder the West Virginia native was a target of Shaka Smart and the Rams. Senior forward Chris Braswell handles most of the scoring duties for the Niners now that Mayfield is gone, averaging a team-leading 12 points per game, but as a unit Charlotte has struggled at times on that end of the court. The Niners have faired well in the paint and have hit 50.7% of their shots inside the 3-point line, but are shooting just 27.4% behind it, good for 335th nationally (Charlotte was 7-10 from three in their most recent game at Temple). Perhaps the most positive sign for VCU however is in Charlotte’s inability to hold on to the ball. Up to this point Charlotte has turned the ball over on 22% of their possessions (261st nationally) and are the second most turnover prone A-10 team VCU will have faced (Fordham ranking No.1 at 16 turnovers per game).

A quick look at VCU: Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic have been stars for VCU, and at this point in league play are legit candidates for first-team honors. Both have stepped their games up, Reddic averaging a double-double of 15.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, Graham a ridiculous 18.5 points and 7.6 rebounds in Atlantic 10 games, incredibly impressive stats for anyone, let alone a sophomore. What’s hurt the Rams at times however has been finding consistency outside of those two. Troy Daniels exploded for 29 points in the Rams most recent win over Fordham, but had a combined 31 in the six games prior. Rob Brandenberg dropped 22 on Duquesne but followed that up by averaging 5.7 points while hitting seven of his next 33 attempts in his last four games. Top-100 freshman guard Melvin Johnson has shown flashes of brilliance but is 21-58 (36%) from the field in Atlantic 10 games and just 1-16 from long range. Five Rams have posted 20+ point performances this season (Treveon, Juvonte, Darius, Troy and Rob), eight have double-digit games, but the problem has been offensive consistency, especially from the guard position. On defense, VCU has been the most effective team in the country in turning teams over. Their 17.4 steals percentage and ridiculous 29.3% defensive turnover rate are both tops in the country. The problem has been defending teams when they aren’t turning the ball over. VCU’s 48.5% 2-point defensive field goal percentage (219th nationally) has hurt them at times. The Rams seemed to have patched that up in their previous games against Fordham and Rhode Island, but I’ll be interested in seeing how that translates against tougher competition.

Tale of the Tape…
Scoring Offense: VCU 77.9, Charlotte 68.5
Scoring Defense: VCU 63 points allowed, Charlotte 64.5
Field Goal%: Charlotte 45%, VCU 44.8%
Field Goal% Defense: Charlotte 39%, VCU 43.3%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 34.1%, Charlotte 27.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: Charlotte 31.2%, VCU 33.1%
Rebounding Margin: Charlotte +3.3, VCU +2.1
Turnover Margin: VCU +8, Charlotte -0.45

VCU wins if: If the VCU guards can impose their will and take Charlotte’s crowd out of the game. The Niners get a lot of minutes out of a young group of guards in Henry (sophomore), Denzel Ingram (freshman) and Terrence Williams (sophomore). It will be up to VCU to worsen Charlotte’s already high turnover rate, and force those guys to make tough shots on offense–Henry is just 23% from deep this season, Ingram is at 31% and Williams a rough 16%. Chris Braswell has some decent size at 6’9 227lbs, so potentially without DJ Haley in the lineup, the Rams will need a team defensive effort to help keep Juvonte Reddic out of foul trouble. Charlotte hasn’t shown an ability to score from deep, and VCU has struggled at times defending the paint. I think we all know where Charlotte is going to try and go with the ball in this one. VCU needs to show that they are a changed team in that regard.

Charlotte wins if: A 60% shooting night like the one they had against Temple certainly wouldn’t hurt. Unfortunately they turned it over 18 times in that one, and on paper, it certainly doesn’t get any easier to hold on to the ball against a team like VCU who makes their living off steals and turnovers. Charlotte is going to have to hit big shots when they are available, but more importantly test VCU’s halfcourt defense in attacking them the same way La Salle did just three games ago. Charlotte will have a size advantage at times with Braswell and 6’8 236 lb freshman Willie Clayton on the floor, but one those guys will have to check the versatile Treveon Graham on defense. Good luck.

Watch: Official Ram Nation watch party at Baja Bean Company in the Fan. Baja will have a purchased live stream on their TVs. This game is not televised.
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A two-time graduate of VCU (School of the Arts '07, Center for Sport Leadership '10), Mat is a co-founder of VCU Ram Nation and a longtime fan as the ...