The Rams extended their winning streak to nine with a dramatic road win at Rhode Island and will look to remain unbeaten in conference play with a trip to Duquesne this afternoon. The Dukes have not shared the same success, dropping three of their four Atlantic 10 contests as a part of a 6-9 start to their season. Duquesne led VCU at the half in last season’s matchup in Richmond so the Rams will need to get off to a much better start if they hope to avoid what would be a major upset in Pittsburgh today.
No.17 VCU (14-3, 4-0)
Duquesne (6-9, 1-3)
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
VCU hasn’t lost since dropping a home contest to the now No.2 nationally ranked UVA Cavaliers way back on Dec 6th. The Rams needed OT to survive Nothern Iowa (currently No.23 in the national rankings) and where down late against a good Rhode Island team before being carried to victory behind a gutsy performance from Treveon Graham, but otherwise have had little difficulty with the teams they have faced these past nine games. The black and gold are battle tested with an 8-3 record against kenpom top-100 teams. VCU is 4-1 in true road games this season, losing their only contest by six points to a tough ODU squad (kenpom No.42) and have three road wins against top-100 teams: Illinois State, Cincinnati and Rhode Island. The Rams are once again turning teams over at an extremely high rate, ranking fifth nationally in the stat (down from first where they ranked the last three seasons) and rank top-35 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. No Shaka Smart-coached team has ranked that high in both stats. Defensively Briante Weber is once again leading the Rams, checking in with an INSANE 8.9% steals percentage to once again give him the top number in the country. Baring injury, Weber is on pace to blow away the NCAA’s all-time steals record while offensively Treveon Graham hunts down Eric Maynor’s VCU record for points. The Rams half court defense has looked hot and cold, as VCU’s achilles heel has been their inability to stop teams in the halfcourt at times, giving up a defensive effective field goal percentage of 50.2%, a number that ranks 232nd nationally. VCU’s ability to improve there will ultimately decided their longterm potential this season.
A QUICK LOOK AT DUQUESNE
The Dukes put together the A-10’s weakest non-conference schedule this season and struggled against it. Duquesne has three sub-200 losses this season (NJIT, Robert Morris and SLU) and have already dropped four home games. Duquesne dropped an understandable one-point L to a very tough Rhode Island squad we’re all familiar with, but lost RPI hurting games to the likes of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (kenpom No.204), St. Francis PA (No.173) and Maryland Eastern Shore (No.183). VCU blasted that same UMES team by 40 points and the St. Francis loss came by 15 for the Dukes. Needless to say, this has not been the best start for Duquesne. The Dukes graduated leading scorer Ovie Soko but have actually seen their offensive percentages increase, checking in in the top-100 nationally in 2p% and 3p%. This Duquesne team however has been more turnover-prone and have taken their biggest hit on the defensive glass. Duquesne is led by junior guard Derric Colter at 12.4 points per contest and is still home to the sharpshooting Micah Mason who’s three-point average is down from a ridiculous 56% last season to a still incredibly good 41.8% this year. Duquesne has a number of pieces but defensively have shot themselves in the foot all season in the third season under head coach, Jim Ferry.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 76.1, Duquesne 71.4
Scoring Defense: VCU 66.3, Duquesne 70.8
Effective Field Goal% Offense: Duquesne 51.6%, VCU 51.2%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 50.2%, Duquesne 50.5%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 36.7%, Duquesne 36.2%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 36.2%, Duquesne 36.5%
Rebounds per game: Duquesne 36.1, VCU 35.5
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25.9%, Duquesne 18.1%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 15.7%, Duquesne 19.3%
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: VCU 112.3, Duquesne 102.4
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: VCU 92.2, Duquesne 108.5
Strength of Schedule Ranking: VCU 2, Duquesne 131
VCU WINS IF
VCU could certainly stand a good shooting game. The Rams really struggled to hit shots, all-be-it against a good defensive team at Rhode Island, but didn’t have a single Rhody hand in their face when they were 29.4% from the free throw stripe prior to Briante Weber’s 4-4 to end the game (his only four free throws on the night). VCU needs to hit shots to setup the press so it’s a double-dose of havoc when the Rams are converting on offense and a much more manageable win when the black and gold go cold. So much of that havoc and success is tied to junior guard, Melvin Johnson. When Johnson is hot, VCU is deadly. Johnson was 3-12 against Rhody, 4-10 against Davidson and 3-11 against Northern Iowa, all tight games. He was a combined 3-18 from distance in the Rams three losses this season. As Johnson goes, usually, so go the Rams.
DUQUESNE WINS IF
The Dukes must defend if they want to stay in the game against a VCU team that I just told you can destroy you when they are hitting shots. If the Dukes allow VCU to put points on the board they allow them to press, which is only going to add more frustration for Duquesne fans and more celebration for the Rams. Duquesne has struggled to defend all year but have played just three kenpom top-100 teams. The two top-100 offenses (Pitt and Dayton) had no trouble with the Dukes, winning by an average margin of victory of 20 points in two road games for the Dukes. The offense outside of the top-100 (Rhode Island) managed to win by one point in Pittsburgh. VCU’s adjusted offensive efficiency ranks No.22 nationally, the best Duquesne will have faced all season.
Kenpom: 85-70 VCU win with a 91% chance of a VCU victory.
Vegas: VCU favored by 13.5 points
Game tips at 2PM at the Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh, PA
Watch: CBS Sports Network, 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