The rubber hits the road Friday night as No.14 VCU takes on unranked Illinois State in the Rams’ 2013-14 season opener. VCU heads into the season winners of their only exhibition game, a 92-54 cruise past Cal U (PA) in which no Ram played over 24 minutes. Illinois State opens their season in Richmond after taking down DIII Quincy, 84-65.
No.14 VCU (0-0)
Illinois State (0-0)
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU: If VCU’s No.14 national ranking didn’t already give things away, this team is expected to be very good. The Rams return the majority of their production from a team that finished 27-8 last year before falling in the third round of the NCAA tournament to last season’s tournament runner-up, Michigan. Leading scorers Treveon Graham (15.1 ppg) and Juvonte Reddic (14.6) return as do four others of VCU’s top eight from last season. The Rams added a talented recruiting class to go with two ineligibles from from this past season, notably 2012 top-100 and VCU legacy, Jordan Burgess. Terrance Shannon joins VCU after already graduating from Florida State where he averaged 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in just 21 minutes per game. VCU is long, athletic, talented and incredibly deep.
A QUICK LOOK AT ILLINOIS STATE: Illinois State returns just two players with D1 college hoops experience from a team that finished 18-15 last season (no post-season appearance). Those players, Kaza Keane and Nick Ziesloft, combined for 7.2 points per game last season. The Redbirds roster sees 10 new faces, eight of which are eligible to play this season, and five of which are JUCO transfers. Illinois State was picked to finish seventh in the always tough, 10-team Missouri Valley Conference.
TALE OF THE TAPE (FROM 2013-14 EXHIBITIONS)
Scoring Offense: VCU 92, ISU 84
Scoring Defense: VCU 54, ISU 65
Field Goal%: VCU 55.6%, ISU 50%
Field Goal% Defense: VCU 32.1%, ISU 32.8%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 45%, ISU 31.6%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 22.6%, ISU 34.4%
Rebounds per game: VCU 47, ISU 36
Steals per game: VCU 16, ISU 9
Turnovers per game: VCU 16, ISU 16
VCU WINS IF: They don’t get caught looking ahead to UVA. The Rams are a heavy favorite in this one (-23) and for good reason. VCU returns the majority of their scoring from last season while upgrading in size and depth. The Rams have been a nightmare for opposing teams in the friendly confines of the Stuart C. Siegel Center and as a team who have made a name over turning teams over, present a very daunting challenge for an Illinois State squad breaking in so many new pieces. Illinois State may have won their exhibition opener against DIII Quincy, but not before swapping leads for the first 32 minutes of play. That kind of start for the Redbirds will find them embarrassed at the Siegel Center. What’s more, VCU’s depth should ensure the Rams can’t get caught sleeping. In years past, VCU squads had more of a drop-off from players 1-6/7 and players 8-13. Not this year’s team. VCU players aren’t just competing against Illinois State tomorrow night, but with the guy sitting on the bench waiting to take their place/production, and in this Ram team’s case, that includes two top-100s capable of dropping 20+ on ISU off the bench.
ILLINOIS STATE WINS IF: That’s a good damn question. It’s college sports, and upsets happen. Certainly VCU has been upset in years past, but I think with the drastic difference in experience and talent with what will be a rowdy sellout crowd cheering on the black & gold, ISU will have to have one of those “everything goes right” types of games and hope VCU really struggles shooting the ball to win. The formula will be what it always is to beat VCU: limit turnovers and hit shots. If Illinois State can do that, they certainly have a shot.