Ah, the rivalry returns to the Stu. Jeff Jones makes his first appearance as ODU head coach at the Siegel Center this afternoon when the Monarchs return to Richmond for the first time since January of 2012 when VCU defeated their old CAA rival, 61-48. VCU looks to build on their two-game winning streak in a series the Rams lead 46-42 that dates all the way back to 1969. VCU has won three straight and are a perfect 4-0 at the Siegel Center this season after surviving EKU, 71-68 in an overtime thriller this past Thursday. The Monarchs have yet to play a road game this season but are 0-2 outside of Norfolk, having dropped games to West Virginia and Saint Louis on neutral courts. The two last met in Norfolk last December. The Rams were never threatened in that one and cruised to an 83-70 win.
A QUICK LOOK AT ODU
Hard to believe ODU is just one win away from matching last year’s total. The Monarchs were a perennial power in the mid-major world over the past decade but fell, and fell hard last season under former head coach, Blaine Taylor. Despite taking ODU to four NCAA tournaments and eight postseason appearance in his 12 seasons with the Monarchs, Taylor was swiftly removed after ODU’s horrendous 2-20 start, let go last February with games left to be played. ODU elevated long-time assistant, Jim Corrigan, to head coach for the time being but eventually brought in American coach (and former UVA head honcho) Jeff Jones to replace him. Jones has had ODU more competitive but is looking to snap a three-game losing skid that includes an overtime home loss to NC Central. The Monarchs are led by guards Aaron Bacote (19.4 ppg) and Dimitri Batten (13 ppg), ODU’s only players averaging double-digit scoring this season. Their front court is an undersized one, led by 6’6 junior, Richard Ross (9.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and 6’7 freshman, Denzell Taylor (3.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Despite a smaller lineup the Monarchs rank 51st nationally in rebounding at 39.9 per contest, but certainly have added opportunities as the Monarchs have struggled to hit shots this season, connecting on a 42.2% clip, good for 268th in college hoops this season. As bas as VCU has been at the line this season ODU has been even worse, connecting on a Shaq-like 56.1% as a team this season. One thing the Monarchs have done particularly well however is defend the paint, holding teams to just 44.1% shooting inside the arc, ranking 56th nationally in that category. VCU has struggled at times when they’ve been unable to get it going inside, including their past game when senior big Juvonte Reddic had just four attempts on the night. The Monarchs are incredibly young and inexperienced as well, ranking 320th nationally in that category. That inexperience will be severally tested in a sold out, rowdy Siegel Center this afternoon.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
It hasn’t always been pretty but VCU has managed a 7-2 start to the season, one game better than last year’s 6-3 start. VCU continues to struggle defending the paint, giving up 52.9% shooting inside the arc (276th nationally), but also does so on a limited number of possessions, as the black and gold turn teams over 26.8% of their possessions (3rd nationally), resulting in an adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 94.2, which is good for 20th in the nation. The Rams have been mediocre at shooting this season, but are still a top-100 team in scoring. Once the shots start falling, look out, as VCU’s offensive efficiency is already 65th in the land. The Rams have four players averaging double-digit scoring (Graham, Reddic, Brandenberg and Johnson) with point guard Briante Weber posting 9.8 of his own. VCU has also seen the rise of freshman scoring point guard, JeQuan Lewis, as the Tennessee native has averaged 12.5 points per game over his last two and has three 11-plus point performances in his young career. Lewis has been joined by Mo Alie-Cox as a breakout star, but on the defensive end. Alie-Cox saw an increase in minutes due to the absence of Burgess and Shannon, playing 23 minutes per contest over the while averaging three blocks per game and altering a number of other shots. Cox’s role saw a slight decrease with the return of Burgess, but has been VCU’s most impressive defensive big this season, and has played the role of safety valve on a team that often gambles on that side of the ball.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 77.6, ODU 68.8
Scoring Defense: ODU 66.5, VCU 69.2
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 50.1%, ODU 46.9%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: ODU 47.5%, VCU 51.6%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 33.9%, ODU 31.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 32.7%, ODU 37.1%
Rebounds per game: ODU 39.9, VCU 34.8
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 26.8%, ODU 18.3%
Turnover Percentage Offense: ODU 17.6%, VCU 18.7%
VCU WINS IF
If VCU is hitting shots they will be damn near impossible to beat, as the Rams are able to setup their press and feed off what will be crazed Siegel Center crowd. That’s a tough atmosphere for even the most experienced teams, so should certainly be a challenge for a Monarch team that’s still relatively green. The black and gold will also hope to continue to improve in the defensive half court. That’s been an area of emphasis and the Rams seem to be slowly improving, giving up under 50% shooting inside the arc in their last two, but have yet to really lock down as they did against Illinois State and UVA to start the season when they surrendered just 38 makes out of 109 attempts (34.8%).
ODU WINS IF
As always, the formula will be turning a track meet into a rock fight. If the Monarchs can slow VCU down, take smart shots while forcing VCU to hit the tough ones (showing lots of zone looks), they’ve certainly got a shot. ODU held a very good SLU team to just 62 points on 42.6% shooting in a very tough atmosphere at Chaifetz Arena. They need another effort like that tonight but while shooting better than 34% themselves.
Vegas Insider Consensus: VCU 17-point favorite
Watch: Comcast SportsNet. 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