VCU will take on the league’s hottest team when they head to No.12 Saint Louis for a 2PM nationally televised ESPN tip. The hosts however have no intention of being courteous to their guests as last season the then unranked Billikens jumped out to a 32-9 lead when the No.24 Rams visited a sold out Chaifetz Arena before cruising to a 76-62 victory. The atmosphere will be like that and then some as SLU looks to extend their win streak to 17 games while VCU looks to chalk up another impressive road win as we approach March.
VCU (20-5, 8-2)
SLU (22-2, 9-0)
A QUICK LOOK AT SLU
Once again the Billikens field a very experienced team that has been one of the toughest to score on in all of college basketball. Four seniors lead SLU in scoring and Ram fans should be familiar with each and every one of them after two gut-wrenching losses at the hands of the Jim Crews-led squad last season. Dwayne Evans still leads the offense with 14.5 points per game while also grabbing a team-high 6.3 rebounds per contest. Jordair Jett is still a defensive nightmare of a guard who also happens to be their second-leading scorer. Rob Loe is still a versatile big who while still 6’11 tall shoots 3.6 long-range attempts per game. And Mike McCall Jr is still a talented guard who dropped 15 points on the Rams last season. SLU’s 87.6 adjusted defensive efficiency ranks third nationally and they are top-25 in defending both the 2-point and 3-point ball. They may not be VCU when it comes to turning teams over but with a 22.1% defensive turnover rate (17th nationally), aren’t too far off. Where they have struggled at times is on offense. They have been a weak three-point shooting team (33.1%) outside of 5-9 sophomore guard, Austin McBroom, but having held 14 of their opponents to under 60 points, that hasn’t really mattered.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams avenged an early A-10 loss to GW this past Wednesday by rolling the Colonials 92-75. They once again turned GW over 20+ times but this time also shot lights out from deep (13-25) and out-rebounded the large GW front court, 36-34. That’s the good news. The never quite satisfied/always a bit pessimistic version of me says, “yeah but the Rams gave up 73% shooting inside in the second half!” VCU held GW to just 28 first half points then surrendered 47 in the second, allowing the Colonials to get within five with 9:13 to play, but answered with more of that hot hand they showed in the first half and eventually pulled out the big win. That drastic inconsistency still worries me however, especially on defense, even if it’s gotten us 20 wins up to this point of the season.
Scoring Offense: VCU 76.5, SLU 70.9
Scoring Defense: SLU 58.8, VCU 66
Effective Field Goal% Offense: SLU 49.5, VCU 48.2%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: SLU 43%, VCU 48.4%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 35.6%, SLU 33.1%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: SLU 28.4%, VCU 30.1%
Rebounds per game: VCU 36.88, SLU 36.87
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 26.6%, SLU 22.1%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 17%, SLU 17.5%
VCU WINS IF
Against a team that defends as good as SLU, VCU will need to win the rebound battle and force as many turnovers as possible, thus creating extra attempts. But this can’t be one of those FSU type of games where the Rams blow a 21 FGA advantage by shooting 29% from the floor while giving up over 50% shooting to the opposition. VCU needs that margin to be much closer, or even better, in their favor (way easier said than done against this squad). Against a very similar opponent, UVA, the Rams were held to just 59 points but locked down on the Wahoos in front of 14,000+ fans, holding the Cavaliers to 39% shooting on the night. That’s what we need to see Saturday against the Billikens. SLU has the ninth-ranked scoring offense in the A-10 and ranks seventh in field goal percentage. VCU must force Jordair Jett and Co. to make tough shots, preferably as far away from the basket as possible. Stay in front of your man, pack the paint and take your chances on the long ball.
SLU WINS IF
Good defense is a given with this group so the obvious keys to victory are 1) hold on to the ball and 2) score when you do. Evans and Loe are both talented scorers around the basket while Jett is like a thinner dreadlocked version of Jerome Bettis on the hardwood, plowing through opposing defenses for tough buckets in the paint — he averages 9.6 attempts per game, just 1.1 of which are from long range. You know where he’s going but he still gets there (see: Jett’s game-winner against La Salle). Fortunately for SLU defending the paint has been a serious chore for this Rams team.
Kenpom.com: 69-64 Saint Louis win with an 29% chance of a VCU victory.
Vegas: SLU 4.5-point favorite to win.
Where: Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis, Missouri.
Watch: ESPN. 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