VCU heads to Nashville today to take on a red-hot Belmont Bruins squad that have won their last six including a road upset of then No.12 North Carolina. The Rams look to build a win streak of their own after bouncing back against Northeastern and hope to notch their second win against the Bruins in as many years, having won at home, 75-65 this past season. Belmont lost their top three scorers from that team but haven’t slowed down one bit, averaging 86.1 points per game (25th nationally) while shooting 51.7% from the field (13th nationally).
A QUICK LOOK AT BELMONT
The Bruins have for the most part handled their business this season with their lone loss coming against another Richmond team, the Spiders of UofR at the Robins Center. Belmont has a massive win at North Carolina as well as a solid W against Indiana State, games in which they averaged 89.5 points behind what’s been one of the best offenses in the country so far this season, doing so despite losing 63% of their scoring from the previous season. The Bruins play their games in an arena that seats just over 5,000 but have averaged just 2,663 this season. VCU is expected to add several hundred to the mix tonight in a game Kenpom computers predict VCU will lose 82-81. Belmont is led by 6’6 senior, JJ Mann. Mann’s averaging a career best 18.1 points per contest an dropped an impressive 28 on UNC in Chapel Hill. Three other Bruins are averaging double figures this season including 6’9 forward, Drew Windler, a Samford transfer who has posted 13.9 ppg in just 22.8 minutes per contest this season. Windler is a Jamie Skeen type of forward who is shooting an insane 63.9% from long range, having made 23 of his 36 attempts from deep this season. Windler previously averaged 42% from deep during his time at Samford. In many ways Belmont is very similar to VCU defensively, in both the good and the bad. Belmont’s strength thus far has been their ability to turn teams over, forcing 21.1 turnovers per game with a steal percentage of 11.8 (29th nationally). Their weakness, like VCU, has been in defending the paint, giving up 52.1% scoring inside the arc, 254th nationally.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams got back on the right side of the win column after going 1-2 in Puerto Rico, pulling away from a solid Northeastern squad in a 79-66 win to move the black and gold to 5-2 on the season. VCU shot an impressive 55% from the field in that one but for the fourth-straight game gave up 50% shooting to an opponent. VCU got the win despite playing with a shortened bench however, as sophomore (/redshirt freshman?), Jordan Burgess sat out due to injury while FSU transfer Terrance Shannon attended to family matters in Georgia. We’re unsure of the status of both (my guess is Shannon may return while Burgess sits out), but in their absence Mo Alie-Cox has began to emerge as a force for the Rams. Big Mo played a career-high 27 minutes against Northeastern and rewarded the Rams with seven points on 3-3 shooting while blocking five shots and altering a number of others. Joining Alie-Cox in the breakout column is the offensive emergence of Briante Weber. The 2013 A-10 Defensive Player of the Year has always been a force for the Rams on D but is beginning to really impress on the other side of the ball as well. Weber has averaged 15 points, 4.6 assists and is shooting 70.8% from the field over the last three games for VCU. Overall however the VCU offense has struggled somewhat. The Rams ranked 11th nationally in scoring last season but at 78 points per game have yet to break the top-100. VCU has struggled to hit shots from everywhere on the floor, including the free throw stripe where their 64.9% team average ranks 288th in all of college hoops. VCU is shooting just 31.4% from deep (234th nationally) and 49.2% inside the arc (165th nationally).
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: Belmont 86.1, VCU 78
Scoring Defense: VCU 69.5, Belmont 76.6
Effective Field Goal% Offense: Belmont 57.8, VCU 48.5%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 50.8%, Belmont 51.6%
3-Point Field Goal%: Belmont 37.7%, VCU 31.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 31.7%, Belmont 33.8%
Rebounds per game: VCU 35.1, Belmont 33.5
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 27.5%, Belmont 21.1%
Turnover Percentage Offense: Belmont 17.9%, VCU 18.1%
VCU WINS IF
Once upon a time a high number of forced turnovers guaranteed a VCU win. This season the Rams have lost TWICE in which they’ve turned teams over 25+ times. Havoc is VCU, but the Rams need to do the basics much better if they are to get out of Nashville with an important W. If VCU continues to struggle on defense, particularly in defending the paint, this Bruins squad that ranks 9th nationally in scoring inside the arc (58.7% shooting) will play them like a lap steel guitar. On offense the Rams could use some of that old Troy Daniels Tennessee magic as well (Daniels hit 11 threes last season at ETSU). Teams have dared the Rams to beat them from deep this season, and so far that’s been a fairly effective strategy, as VCU has hit just 31.4% of their threes on the season. Opposing teams confidence in our inability to hit the long ball have allowed them to focus their attention in the paint, thus limiting senior Juvonte Reddic to 11.7 points per game, down 2.9 points from his junior season. VCU has a number of guys who can take the ball to the hoop in a hurry, but until they consistently prove they need to be respected from long range opposing defenses will continue to show 2-3 zone looks and pack the paint to defend VCU’s preferred method of scoring.
BELMONT WINS IF
They attack the basket and force VCU to beat them from deep. Belmont has the first part down but has been just as bad at defending the paint as VCU–52.1% on defense ranks 254th nationally, just two spots better than the Rams. VCU has struggled to hit the long ball but have a number of guys who can dice you up in the paint. If the Bruins allow Treveon, Juvonte and Co. to get going inside the Rams could hang points on the OVC team in a hurry. If they pack the paint and challenge VCU to a shooting contest however, statistics suggest they’ll be the victors. It’s simple, until the Rams prove they can beet anyone from 20’9″ out, teams should pack the paint and deny VCU the easy buckets they’ve needed to win thus far this season.
Game tips at 5PM at the Curb Event Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Watch: Comcast SportsNet/CBS 6.3, Official watch parties at Baja Bean Co. in the Fan as well as Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation