The Rams look to pick up their second straight Atlantic 10 road win after making easy work of a tough Dayton squad this past Wednesday, this time against a La Salle team that handed the black and gold their only conference home loss last season. The Explorers have yet to lose a home game since dropping their season opener in a double-overtime letdown against a pesky Manhatten squad, and have reeled off six straight in Philly but are coming off a road loss at St. Bonaventure. Both teams look to stay toward the top of a very deep Atlantic 10 after starting 3-1 in conference.
VCU 15-4 (3-1)
La Salle 11-7 (3-1)
A QUICK LOOK AT LA SALLE
Ram fans are well aware of how dangerous this Explorers club can be after watching the John Giannini-led squad walk out of the Siegel Center with an eight-point win last season — the Rams only home loss — a season that eventually ended in the Sweet 16 despite having to tip their journey up in Dayton at last season’s edition of the First 4. All but one player from that team returned to what was expected to be one of the most dangerous A-10 teams. Unfortunately for La Salle, the loss of leading scorer, Ramone Galloway, has proven itself to be tougher to overcome than perhaps expected. La Salle started the season 6-6 with losses in some very winnable games, including the aforementioned upset home loss to Manhattan as well as neutral court letdowns against Providence and Northern Iowa as well as some lost road opportunities against very beatable BCS teams in Penn State and Miami. They followed that slow start with a five-game winning streak including a nice home W against the George Washington team that recently defeated VCU, but are coming off a road loss in Olean, NY to St. Bonaventure. The difference this season?: offense. Losing a scoring machine like Galloway (17.2 ppg) was going to be an expected hit, but the Explorers have dropped off the cliff as a team on offense with his departure. Last season La Salle’s adjusted offensive efficiency of 109.8 ranked 36th nationally. They were the 30th best three-point shooting team and a top-100 squad at scoring in the paint. This season they rank 126th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency due to some awful shooting: 46.5% inside the arc (256th nationally) and 32.4% from long range (253rd nationally). One thing they have done particularly well this season however — as they did at VCU last year — is hold on to the ball. La Salle’s experienced guards may have seen a dip in their shooting percentages but are still taking care of the ball to the tune of just 11 turnovers per game — the same as last season. Their 16.3% offensive turnover rate ranks 56th nationally and they turned the ball over “just” 14 times against VCU last season. That’s six less turnovers than VCU is forcing per game this season. The Rams have often struggled when unable to turn teams over.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
VCU needed a big road win in Dayton and that’s exactly what they got. Quite possibly the Rams’ most impressive effort of the season, the black and gold held a very good Dayton offense to almost 10 points under their season scoring average and 46.8% shooting from the floor. The Rams converted 18 Dayton turnovers into 28 VCU points and hit a much-improved 49.2% of their shots in the process. Point guard Briante Weber was not only aggressive on defense (as usual) but attacked on offense as well, scoring 18 points on a season-high 12 attempts that included three attempts to keep the Flyers honest from long range. Weber had just 14 of those deep attempts in his first 16 games this season but has 11 attempts from downtown over the last three contests. Senior big Juvonte Reddic has seen endless double and some times triple-teams this season but has battled through the extra attention. While teams wont mistake Weber for Troy Daniels anytime soon, the threat of threes from the junior point guard as well as the often dangerously hot hands of fellow guards Rob Brandenberg, Melvin Johnson and freshman JeQuan Lewis, could open space leading scorers Treveon Graham and Reddic, as they did against Dayton where the two combined for 32 points and 55% shooting in the paint. Those are numbers we all like to see, but what’s even more impressive if the intensity level the Rams have brought particularly in the second halves of their last two games where they have outscored their opponents by an average of 12 points per game. Juvonte Reddic was particularly impressive in this last contest, posting 16 of his 18 points to finish the game.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 75.6, LAS 69.9
Scoring Defense: VCU 64.9, LAS 67.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 48.5%, LAS 47.1%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: LAS 47.1%, VCU 48.6%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 34.9%, LAS 32.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 30.6%, LAS 30.1%
Rebounds per game: LAS 36.1, VCU 35.7
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 28.1%, LAS 17.5%
Turnover Percentage Offense: LAS 16.3%, VCU 17.2%
VCU WINS IF
It’s all about that ACL…playing Aggressive Confident and Loose. The Rams have used this mantra in the past including during their 2011 Final 4 run, and you can notice a clear difference with this team when they seem to apply it. The Rams entered the season ranked in the top-25 and climbed as high as No.10 but plummeted after some tough losses where quite frankly the Rams just looked out of it in a number of games. Typically I don’t buy that stuff and prefer to think numbers, schemes, and more controllable factors are what determines a basketball game’s outcome, but I’m here to tell you that I believe I have seen the difference between a Juvonte Reddic on 5 or lower and a widow-making Juvonte Reddic on 10+, and think when the big guy and his teammates are fired up there are only a handful of teams in college basketball that have a shot at stopping them. That’s big talk, I know, but we’ve all seen how quickly this VCU team can bury an opponent, and we’ve watched college hoops outside of our own conference. VCU is one of the most dangerous teams in college hoops this season, but only if they know they are. We saw that Wednesday. I’m ready to see it again.
LA SALLE WINS IF
As they have proven in the past, La Salle has the guards to beat VCU’s press, which is a key piece in beating VCU. Tyreek Duran, Tyrone Garland and Sam Mills are all very talented and experienced guards who know how to break a press and turn that into easy points. Will VCU’s press be the key to curing the Explorers shooting woes, or will it be another example of how much of a difference maker Ramone Galloway was? Well find out Saturday with the winner notching another key victory towards a first round A-10 tournament bye.
Kenpom.com: 68-66 VCU win with a 61% chance of victory.
Where: Tom Gola Arena, Philadelphia, PA.
Watch: ESPN2. 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