VCU takes on UMass in Amherst in a game that has both NCAA tournament and Atlantic 10 tournament implications. A win would keep the Rams ahead of the pack competing for a top-four seed and first-round A-10 tournament bye, not to mention give VCU another top-50 road win that would almost all but lock up an NCAA at-large bid. The Rams haven’t won on the road in almost a month while UMass is looking for their first home vcitory since February 5 after being upset last week by a pesky George Mason squad, 91-80. VCU will look to overcome a tough UMass team and once again, a sellout road crowd, as the Rams have played in road sellouts in all but one of their A-10 road games this season, a 12,500+ fan turnout at Dayton.
VCU (20-6, 8-3)
UMass (20-5, 7-4)
A QUICK LOOK AT UMASS
The Minutemen (hold your stamina jokes) jumped out to one of the best starts in the country, winning their first ten games, four of which were over power conference teams with an upset of then-No.19 New Mexico thrown in the mix. After falling by five to a hot Florida State team (at the time), UMass reeled off six more to move to 16-1 while getting some national love as the then-No.16 ranked team in the country. That’s when the road got a little bumpy, as Chaz Williams and Co. lost three of their next four, four of their last eight to get to where they are today. A home loss would push UMass to 7-5 in conference play with a tough roadie at Dayton and a home contest against A-10 leader Saint Louis remaining, and odds are six losses earns you a Wednesday game in this year’s A-10 tournament. No team in CAA history ever won the conference tournament without a first round bye, so imagine how difficult that is in this year’s brutal Atlantic 10. UMass is a well-rounded group that includes 5’9 A-10 First-Team point guard, Chaz Williams, surrounded by a slew of redwoods including this year’s breakout big, Cady Lallane, who’s every bit of 6’10 253 lbs. Lallane was huge early in the season, grabbing double-doubles in seven of UMass’ first twelve games. Lallane averaged just under 14 points per game in the 13 non-conference contests that started the season but has seen that number decrease to 10.5 points in Atlantic 10 play with just two double-digit rebound performances. Lallane and Williams are two of four UMass players averaging double-digit points, the two others checking it at 6’8 and 6’9 in the form of Sampson Carter (11 ppg) and Raphiael Putney (10.2 ppg), both seniors. The Minutemen have three other players averaging over eight points per game yet rank just sixth in offensive efficiency in A-10 games (VCU checks in at seventh). Reason being, despite their ability to put the ball in the basket at a high percentage, UMass has been held back by poor free throw shooting and have been susceptible to turning the ball over in A-10 games. On defense they have really protected the rim (tops in blocked shots), holding teams to a 46% effective field goal percentage, second to only SLU.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams nearly pulled off a big road win at SLU but were ultimately done in by another poor shooting effort. VCU connected on just 38.5% of their attempts and were held to 2-16 from long range, which proved to be the difference in the 2-point loss. That’s been the difference all season for the Rams. In VCU’s six losses the Rams have shot 29.3% (FSU), 35.7% (Georgetown), 36.9% (UNI), 36.8% (GW), 41.7% (St. Joe’s) and the 38.5% (SLU). VCU’s effective field goal percentage of 47.9% ranked 250th in the country and that inability to put the ball in the hoop could limit their ceiling heading into March. IF…if if if…VCU can figure out a way to increase those percentages on the offensive end, they become a legit national title contender (true story). The problem is with a 26-game sample size, the evidences suggests that’s simply not happening. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.
Scoring Offense: UMass 77, VCU 75.9
Scoring Defense: VCU 65.9, UMass 70.1
Effective Field Goal% Offense: UMass 52%, VCU 47.9%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: UMass 45%, VCU 48.4%
3-Point Field Goal%: UMass 36.3%, VCU 34.9%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 30.2%, UMass 30.5%
Rebounds per game: UMass 38.8, VCU 36.8
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 26.5%, UMass 18.3%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 17.1%, UMass 19.3%
VCU WINS IF
VCU defeated UMass at both the Siegel Center and Siegel Center North (Barclays Center) by playing good old fashioned havoc basketball. In Richmond, the Rams outshot UMass while forcing 24 turnovers for a +17 margin, resulting in an 18-point win. In Brooklyn, VCU nearly matched that margin, forcing 23 UMass turnovers for a +16 margin while shooting jus 2% worse from the field, resulting in a 9-point win despite UMass out-rebounding the Rams by 13. So there you have it. Force turnovers, and keep the shooting percentages close. On paper those turnover percentages pop out in this one. UMass’ 19.3% turnover percentage on offense ranks 236th nationally while VCU is the top team in the nation at forcing turnovers. The Rams need both teams playing true to form to pull of a big road win in Amherst, but like last year, will have a much easier time doing so if they can keep the shooting percentages relatively even as well.
UMASS WINS IF
The opposite of above. UMass has had double-digit turnovers in all but one Atlantic 10 contest this season, an eight-turnover four-point home win against St. Joe’s. Outside of that they are averaging 13.6 turnovers in A-10 games and 13.25 in their conference loses. When UMass isn’t turning the ball over they are scoring at a pretty efficient clip, so the key for a home Minutemen win will be to remain poised under the ESPN lights in front of a Mullins Center sellout crowd.
Kenpom.com: 75-74 UMass win with a 46% chance of a VCU victory.
Vegas: UMass 1-point favorite to win.
Where: Mullins Center, Amherst, MA.
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