VCU heads back to Philly to take on a Saint Joseph’s team they swept last season; first in an overtime home thriller, then in the A-10 tournament quarterfinals where the Rams nearly blew a large lead after surrendering 56 second-half points. The black and gold will look to slow down the St. Joe’s offense, something they struggled with in both previous A-10 meetings, surrendering 82.5 points per game and 52% shooting to the high-scoring Hawks. Most of both teams have returned and are fighting for a first round A-10 tournament bye heading down the home stretch of the regular season.
VCU 19-4 (7-1)
Saint Joseph’s 15-7 (5-3)
A QUICK LOOK AT SAINT JOSEPH’S
The Hawks are coming off back-to-back home games against ranked teams with mixed results. A week ago they upset then No.21 UMass at home, 73-68, revenging a road loss that opened their conference season. They shot just 41% from the floor while surrendering 49% shooting but outscored the Minutemen by 13 at the free throw line via 20 extra attempts in a game that saw 45 total fouls called. They followed that whistle-heavy affair with a 16-point home loss to No.13 Saint Louis, a game in which they hit just 15 of their 47 field goal attempts but once again managed 13 additional free throw attempts against the Billikens. The Hawks are an experienced team at the top but lack depth. Against SLU only one bench player saw more than seven minutes of court time and only one bench player really saw any real action, 6’8 junior forward, Papa Ndao, who played 20 of the Saint Joseph’s 27 combined bench minutes. Three SJU starters played 39+ minutes in that game and on the season five Hawks are averaging 31 or more minutes of action per game. Depth may be an issue today against a VCU team that loves to try and wear down opponents with an almost hockey-like substitution pattern. SJU plays rather large with a pair of 6’8 seniors in Ronald Roberts Jr (14.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Halil Kanacevic (11.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg) racking up the minutes alongside 6’6 freshman DeAndre Bembry (10.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg). Their backcourt is equally as impressive with 6’2 guard and leading scorer, Langston Galloway (16.2 ppg), joined by 6’3 210 lb guard, Chris Wilson (9.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3 apg). The Hawks are a good shooting team with a 53.1% effective field goal percentage that ranks 39th nationally, but where they’ve struggled this season (and Ram fans will like this) is in holding on to the ball, turning it over 19.5% of their possessions (244th nationally). They haven’t been able to make up for those turnovers but forcing many of their own on defense and at -2.32 rank dead last in Atlantic 10 turnover margin.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
VCU is riding a six-game winning streak heading into this one and should be relatively rested and healed for tonight’s game. The Rams rested their starters for the most part after building a 20-point first half cushion Thursday night against Rhode Island, a game in which both Treveon Graham and Terrance Shannon saw court time after suffering recent injuries. In that game Juvonte Reddic grabbed his fourth-straight double-double. The 6’8 senior is averaging 15.5 points and 11.5 points over that stretch despite playing 25 minutes or less in three of those games. VCU leading scorer Treveon Graham has had things click in A-10 play as well, posting double-digit scoring in all but one conference game, a 9-point effort in 15 minutes before getting injured against Fordham. VCU will need big efforts from those two in particular against a big team like Saint Joseph’s. The Rams have struggled against bigger teams this season, most recently at George Washington as Colonial bigs, Isaiah Armwood (6’9) and Kevin Larson (6’10) combined for 33 points and 21 rebounds with 6’6 guard, Patricio Garino adding 25 points and 7 rebounds off the bench.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 76.4, SJU 71.2
Scoring Defense: VCU 65.4, SJU 68.5
Effective Field Goal% Offense: SJU 53.1%, VCU 47.9%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 47.9%, SJU 49.8%
3-Point Field Goal%: SJU 38.3%, VCU 34.9%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 30.1%, SJU 34.5%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37, SJU 36.4
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 26.9%, SJU 16
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 16.9%, SJU 19.5%
VCU WINS IF
I’m all about halfcourt defense tonight. If VCU can protect the lane and force Saint Joseph’s to make tough shots, the Rams could head back to Richmond with their second road win of the season against a team from Philadelphia. The turnover and depth stats really favor VCU, so havoc SHOULD have a head start, but it will be all for naught if the black and gold allow themselves to be worked in the paint by St. Joe’s large and very capable scorers.
SAINT JOSEPH’S WINS IF
VCU ranks 11th in the Atlantic 10 in effective field goal percentage but average the second most points per game (76.4) in the league. What does that tell us? It tells us Saint Joseph’s has to limit the Rams opportunities. That means 1) Saint Joseph’s has to hold on to the ball and 2) they have to clean up on the glass. The Rams are one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the league which combined with their ability to turn teams over creates a major field goal attempt advantage. The Rams can afford to shoot a lower percentage than their opponent when they are getting 20 more shots, so it will be up to Saint Joseph’s to limit those opportunities while taking advantage of their own on offense.
Kenpom.com: 71-68 VCU win with an 62% chance of victory.
Vegas: VCU 2.5-point favorite to win.
Where: Hagan Arena, Philadelphia, PA.
Watch: CBS Sports Net. 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