VCU heads to Charlottesville Tuesday night to take on UVA in the two teams’ first game since 1999, their first meetings as ranked opponents ever. The Rams have won just once in the history of the matchup (75-66 in 1987), but bring their most talented team to Charlottesville to attempt to break their 4-game losing streak in the series.
Both teams cruised in their home openers — VCU a 38-point dismantling of Illinois State, UVA a 20-point sail past JMU — but both also faced opening night opponents that were filled with youth and inexperience. Neither team played a player more than 26 minutes in their opening night victories. Tuesday night’s sellout on ESPN2 should feel like two steps up in weight class for both programs. Kenpom.com gives VCU a 35% chance of winning.
No.14 VCU (1-0)
No.24 UVA (1-0)
A QUICK LOOK AT UVA
Like VCU, UVA returns a number of key pieces from a solid 2012-13 squad, most notably leading-scorer and All-ACC First-Teamer, Joe Harris (16.3 ppg in 2012-13). Harris is joined by fellow senior and second leading scorer, Akil Mitchel (13.1 ppg last season), as well as a slew of highly ranked sophomores, Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte, all of whom were ESPN top-100 2012 recruits and top-5 scorers for the Wahoos last season as freshmen. The Cavaliers are BIG, starting no player under 6’5 in their season opener against JMU, and playing just one player under 6’3 — 6’2 backup point guard, London Perrantes — double digit minutes in the win. Tony Bennet’s team is known for their grinding defense (24th nationally in defensive efficiency last season), but sometimes struggle to hit shots (although on the season were very effective as a team). The Wahoos went 4-18 from long range in their home opener against JMU. UVA was deadly on their home court last season, winning 18 of their 19 homes games, their lone loss a head-scratcher to VCU’s former CAA foe the Delaware Blue Hens. UVA hosted two ranked teams last season, winning both including a 4-point upset of the then No.3 Duke Blue Devils.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
VCU’s experienced squad looked brilliant at times this past Friday night, all-be-it against a heavily overmatched Illinois State team. A number of question marks heading into this season have shown positive early results. Briante Weber handled his starting point guard duties fantastically, dishing eight assists to just two turnovers in the win while adding an impressive nine points and five steals in just 25 minutes of play. The 2-guard 1-2 punch of Rob Brandenberg and Melvin Johnson filled in quite nicely for the graduate Troy Daniels as well, combining for five made 3-pointers on nine attempts and a total of 23 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals in their combined 35 minutes of play. Ram fans were thrilled by 5th-year ACC transfer Terrance Shannon who led the Rams with 14 points in the win. Shannon, combined with a healthy Jarred Guest and the redwood of a man that is Mo Alie-Cox, brought a physicality to VCU that was often absent last season. But it’s Shannon in particular who adds an additional element that has the potential to make VCU a very dangerous squad. Shannon’s offensive prowess brings less attention to Reddic and makes Graham a matchup nightmare for opposing small forwards.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 96, UVA 61
Scoring Defense: UVA 41, VCU 58
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 62.3%, UVA 45%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 34.9%, UVA 37.5%,
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 45%, UVA 22.2%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 17.4%, UVA 24%
Rebounds per game: VCU 46, UVA 45
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 27.3%, UVA 21.1%
Turnover Percentage Offense: UVA 14.6%, VCU 19.8%
VCU WINS IF
They play solid half court defense. Force turnovers, hit shots, that was the formula all last season for a VCU win. The Rams did both against Illinois State but have their work cutout for them against a team that plays the same methodical style that gave VCU trouble last season (think SLU, Richmond). VCU will need to be tougher when the game isn’t going their way, and prove they can win ugly. That said, UVA’s Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrentas are talented but relatively inexperienced guards who will have the chore of bringing the ball up the court against an aggressive VCU press in front of a sellout crowd that will include reportedly 2,500+ Ram fans. If VCU can turn those two over while avoiding fouls, the Rams have a pleasant ride home down 64 East. When the Rams have the ball, expect UVA to pack the paint, forcing the talented but less proven guards (Briante, Melvin, Jordan and JeQuan in particular) to beat them. Problem is, that’s even easier said than done. UVA’s long guards will challenge VCU’s shot all night long.
UVA WINS IF
Joe Harris does what Joe Harris does. The senior carried UVA as a junior in the Wahoo’s two biggest home wins last season, posting 36 points against then No.3 Duke and 22 points against then No.19 NC State. Harris may need another big night to keep pace with a VCU team that can put up points in a hurry (11th nationally in scoring last season). In order for Harris to be effective however he’ll need solid performances out of UVA’s backcourt. UVA had just nine total assists in their win against JMU, three from 6’8 forward Akil Mitchel. A night like that against VCU and odds are UVA has an “L” beside their name in Wednesday’s paper. Bad point guard play equals death against VCU.
Game tips at 7PM EST in Charlottesville, VA.