Two rolling Rams will face off tonight in Kingston, Rhode Island. The VCU version looks to extend an eight-game winning streak that has seen the black and gold climb back into the national rankings, while the Rhode Island edition looks for their seventh consecutive en route to cementing their status as rebuilt A-10 power. Winner will remain as one of the two A-10 unbeatens alongside Dayton and will become the first A-10 team to reach 4-0 this season. VCU has started out 14-3 just twice this past decade, first during the 2006-2007 “Duke dagger” season, then most recently two seasons ago as VCU entered their inaugural Atlantic 10 season. They can match that feat tonight.
VCU 13-3 (3-0)
Rhode Island 11-3 (3-0)
A QUICK LOOK AT RHODE ISLAND
Rhode Island is off to their best start since the 09-10 season that resulted in a semifinal loss in the NIT (Dayton coincidentally won that tournament). Dan Hurley has steadily improved the Rams since taking over in 2012, winning eight games his first season in Kingston, followed by 14 last year and is just three wins away from matching that feat. The keaney blue Rams have done that with a relatively young but talented group of ballers headlined by Atlantic 10 leading scorer, EC Matthews (17.4 ppg). Matthews has a number of talented pieces to run with but perhaps none more important than star sophomore, Hassan Martin. Matthews gets the headlines but Martin has been their rock all season, shooting a consistent 67% from the field. Martin is an explosive forward at 6’7 230. Rutgers transfer, Gilvydas Biruta, has been nearly as consistent from the floor as Martin at 61.6% and gives Rhody’s starting group its most experienced piece. All three have connected on over 50% of their 2-point shots pacing a team that ranks 26th nationally in 2p% at 53.6%, and that’s really where they excel. Rhody has pretty much done all of their damage in the paint this season, ranking 267th nationally in 3-point shooting at 30.5%. They rebound well and defend well — really well, ranking No.1 in points allowed by A-10 teams — but have also had the luxury of racking up a lot of wins against a very winnable schedule. The Rams are 1-3 against kenpom top-100 teams, needing OT to take down No.90 Nebraska in a home win. Eight of their 11 wins are against teams ranked 200 or below, so it is up to kenpom No.15 VCU (the highest ranked kenpom team URI has faced this season) to deliver a new dose of competition in tonight’s matchup.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
Fun stat: VCU has trailed for a total just 36 seconds (5-2 versus Davidson) since the second half of the Rams’ game against Northern Iowa a full month ago. The Rams have been in control and for the most part cruised against their schedule these past seven games since defeating UNI in double OT, that includes a road blowout of kenpom No.33 Cincinnati and a six-point home win against Davidson, which, truth be told, wasn’t really as close as the final score suggests (although look out for the Wildcats when VCU heads to Charlotte, they are really, really good). VCU has been very hard to kill over that span as the Rams can beat teams in so many ways. The constant with VCU is the Rams are most likely going to speed your team up and force turnovers. VCU ranks second nationally in steals percentage and fifth in turnover percentage. But what they’ve steadily improved at is locking down teams in the halfcourt as well. VCU’s offense currently ranks 18th nationally in adjusted efficiency as the Rams rank second in the A-10 in scoring at 76.8 points per game and have done so against the nation’s second toughest schedule according to the RPI. VCU is 3-1 in true road games with two top-100 road wins to one top-100 road loss.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 76.8, URI 70
Scoring Defense: URI 57.4, VCU 66.7
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 51.5%, URI 51.3%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: URI 44.3%, VCU 50.6%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 36.9%, URI 30.5%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: URI 28.8%, VCU 36.8%
Rebounds per game: URI 35.9, VCU 35.8
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25.9%, URI 23.9%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 15.5%, URI 21.1%
VCU WINS IF
If havoc flies north. Rhode Island has really turned the ball over this season and VCU is a team who’s been one of the best nationally under Coach Smart at forcing turnovers. Rhody leans on sophomores Matthews and Martin and plays freshmen Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett 20+ minutes each, not to mention junior, Biggie Minnis, who turns the ball over 32.8% of his possessions. If Rhody and their youth have had a hard time holding on to the ball against the schedule they’ve played, Ram fans will hope VCU can do more of the same, as VCU’s defense (on paper at least) should be Rhody’s biggest challenge of the season. Offensively VCU needs to find a way to put the ball in the basket and I for one would love to see those shots falling from deep. Rhody has defended the teams they’ve played but have faced just two offenses that rank in the top-100 in adjusted offensive efficiency: Kansas and Providence, both losses. VCU will look to continue that trend while Rhody will look to prove they are more than just a cupcake smasher.
RHODE ISLAND WINS IF
If home court advantage phases the Rams. VCU held a 20-point lead on Rhode Island at the half last season before cruising to a 68-52 victory. I am of the opinion (and the numbers concur) that this year’s VCU team is even better than last year’s. But is Rhode Island better as well? They certainly appear to be. If so, how many points is a homecourt advantage worth? VCU survived a battle with Rhody the last time they traveled to Kingston, winning 70-64 after leading by just one point at the half in VCU’s inaugural A-10 season. That Rhode Island team finished 3-13 in the Atlantic 10 that season and finished with just eight wins overall. VCU needs to be better than that on the road while Rhody needs to use that fan support to take their game to the next level, proving they are indeed a top A-10 team as their record will officially have them with a win over VCU (4-0 would at least temporarily put them at sole possession of first place in the A-10). Beyond that massive mental part of the game, I think Rhody needs to do one extra thing well and to me that is hitting threes. If Rhody hits threes, something they have REALLY struggled with all season, they become a nightmare to beat on the road.
Kenpom: 68-66 VCU win with a 60% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 7:30PM at the Thomas M. Ryan Center in Kingston, RI.
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