VCU heads to the Gateway City Friday in hopes of picking up their first-ever conference road win at Saint Louis. The Rams haven’t won a game in SLU’s Chaifetz Arena since defeating the Billikens there in the 2010 CBI Championship. As A-10 foes however, SLU leads the series 3-1 including a perfect 2-0 home record. The Rams nearly clipped SLU’s senior-led Billikens squad there last season, falling 64-62 to the then 23-2 (10-0) No.12 Billikens. This year’s SLU squad has a much different look. Off to a 9-9 start, SLU is looking for just their second conference win and have lost two of their last three home games at Chaifetz. VCU has won their last 10 contests and are 5-1 on the road this season. The Rams have won their last five true road games, a streak that includes road wins over three kenpom top-100 teams.
No.16 VCU (15-3, 5-0)
SAINT LOUIS (9-9, 1-4)
A QUICK LOOK AT SAINT LOUIS
The Billikens are in the beginning stages of a major rebuild. Gone are all five senior starters, a group that included A-10 Player of the Year, Jordair Jett, one of two Billikens to be selected to last year’s First Team All-Conference team. SLU graduated all of their top-four scorers and the fifth leading scorer, Austin McBroom, appears to be removed from SLU’s future plans as the junior shooter has totaled 16 minutes of action over SLU’s last two contests. Head coach Jim Crews has done a lot of roster experimentation and you will notice that in the Bills’ PT distribution. No Billiken has averaged over 30 minutes while 11 players are averaging double-digit playing time. With this, SLU very much has the look of a team still figuring a lot out. SLU ranks 200 or worse in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. They have struggled to hit shots and to defend teams from doing so against them. SLU does a good job of getting to the free throw line but a terrible job of hitting the free ones when they get there. Defensively they have been really good at turning teams over, ranking 52nd nationally in defensive turnover percentage, but have been unable to convert those turnovers into consistent scoring on the other end.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
VCU has had to survive two road scares to preserve their win streak, first coming back to defeat Rhode Island by five behind a gutsy performance from senior Treveon Graham, then holding on to outlast Duquesne by six without the services of the Freight Train. The Rams somewhat struggled on offense in both, failing to punish Duquesne’s zone defense without Graham for a 37.9% fg% inside the arc (VCU did hit 12 of their 30 threes in that one for a solid 40%) and were cold throughout against a good defensive Rhode Island unit, finishing 24-59 for 40% on the night. Second leading scorer, Melvin Johnson, didn’t have his best nights in those two games, going a combined 2-6 inside the arc and 6-17 outside of it. The Rams are a different team when Johnson is on as he not only stretches defensives with his thee-point shooting ability but can then attack those spaced-out squads with his patented “Melvin” and various other moves the Bronx native has brought to Richmond. Defensively VCU did a nice job of defending in both games and that is why this team has proven so tough to beat. The Rams can beat you in a shootout or in a defensive rock fight, but when they are at their best can flat out embarrass your team. VCU hasn’t been at their best however these last two but after nearly a week off have an opportunity to prove just how deadly they can be against an SLU team that ranks 264th nationally by kenpom’s computers.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 75.7, SLU 61
Scoring Defense: SLU 65, VCU 66.2
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 51.1%, SLU 47.3%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 50.2%, SLU 52.6%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 36.9%, SLU 33%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 35.7%, SLU 38.1%
Rebounds per game: VCU 35.1, SLU 30.1
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25.9%, SLU 21.9%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 15.6%, SLU 21.1%
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: VCU 111.3, SLU 96.2
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: VCU 92, SLU 103.2
Strength of Schedule Ranking: VCU 2, SLU 151
VCU WINS IF
If VCU hits shots it’ll be a long, quiet night in the Chaifetz stands. SLU wasn’t the best offensive team last season with a bunch of really good senior starters so you can imagine how fluid that offense has looked this season (adjusted offensive efficiency of 96.2 ranks 272nd nationally). The Billikens have a ton of new pieces, none of which have faced anything close to the defense VCU is about to bring, so the numbers/recent history suggests the Rams defense should give SLU’s offense enough trouble. The question is can VCU’s offense match the havoc their defense should wreak Friday night?
SLU WINS IF
SLU needs to make this one the rock fight of all rock fights to pick up their best win of the season (by a mile). The Billikens have just TWO wins against teams inside kenpom’s top-200 this season, the first a 69-56 road win at Indiana State (No.197), the second coming in a 58-55 home dub against Vermont (No.142). The offense hasn’t been anywhere close to consistent enough to suggest SLU can win in any type of shootout (although stranger things have happened) so the Billikens will need to attempt to win this game at a snail’s pace.
Kenpom: 75-61 VCU win with a 91% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 7PM at Chaifetz Arena in Saint Louis, MO
Watch: ESPN2/WatchESPN, 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