I don’t know what it is about VCU and teams from Philly but for some reason they have consistently provided some classic battles. VCU won one such battle last season when they escaped the City of Brotherly Love with a double-overtime marathon victory over La Salle, avenging a rare home loss from the previous season. The Rams lead the all-time series with the Explorers 4-1 but are and even 1-1 as Atlantic 10 rivals. A win tonight keeps VCU in first place in the conference due to a head-to-head tie-breaker with Rhode Island.
No.20 VCU (18-5, 8-2)
La Salle (13-10, 5-5)
A QUICK LOOK AT LA SALLE
The Explorers have been somewhat of a tough team to figure out during conference play. They boast wins over the likes of George Washington and Richmond, as well as a road win at St. Bonaventure, but dropped a road game at George Mason and are 0-2 against UMass. The loss to Mason was their second sub-200 kenpom loss of the season, the first coming in the form of an overtime home loss to American (No.216). They are a battle-tested team with neutral court losses to the likes of UVA, Temple and Vanderbilt (all top-50), as well as a home loss to Villanova, but unfortunately have no good out-of-conference wins to boost their or the A-10’s tournament resumes. In short, they are dangerous. The Explorers have made their living this season on the defensive end, led by the talented and large frontcourt duo of Jarelle Wright and Steve Zack (both seniors). Offensively they haven’t been as consistent, ranking 266th nationally in effective field goal percentage. That inconsistency is reflected in leading scorer Jordan Price (16.6 ppg), an Auburn transfer and top-100 guard out of high school. Price has nine games of 20 points or more including three 30-point evenings but also has had three single-digit nights in conference play, two of which came in losses where Price was a combined 3-24 from the field. Price is joined by another new face in the backcourt, Georgia Southern transfer, Cleon Roberts. Roberts has been an effective three-point shooter for La Salle at a team-leading 40.9% on the season.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
Injuries have handcuffed the Rams this season. Briante Weber saw his career shortened three games ago with ACL and MCL tears against Richmond while Treveon Graham continues to battle a high ankle sprain that has benched him two full games this season, most recently in a loss at St. Bonaventure. The black and gold has the depth to help survive such bad luck but don’t posses a ton of experience with those two out. VCU’s youth played roughly two games without Graham or Weber, one complete game without either. Graham went down with the Rams trailing early at George Mason, only to see the young guns kick things into another gear without him in the 12-point road win. The encore performance didn’t go quite as well. VCU’s 2015-16 preview squad hung 71 points at St. Bonaventure, a fine accomplishment, but gave up 73 and turned the Bonnies over just nine times, matching the Rams season-low on the defensive end. Winning on the road in the A-10 is difficult even with your starters so it’s hard to make a fair assessment of just how much the losses of VCU’s senior stars will hurt them. Graham is listed as day-to-day, leaving Coach Smart and Co. the challenge of deciding how to use him, if at all, while the senior recovers. VCU’s youth can help make that an easier decision by stepping up collectively tonight against La Salle.
Scoring Offense: VCU 73.7, LAS 62.7
Scoring Defense: LAS 61, VCU 65.1
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 50.3%, LAS 46.3%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: LAS 46%, VCU 48.3%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 35.3%, LAS 31.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: LAS 31.6, VCU 33.4%
Rebounds per game: VCU 34.8, LAS 33.2
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 24.9%, LAS 20.8%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 15.2%, LAS 19.7%
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: VCU 109.3, LAS 100.3
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: VCU 93, LAS 93.8
Strength of Schedule Ranking: VCU 8, LAS 52
VCU WINS IF
VCU has played two full games without Briante Weber. In the first game the Rams forced 18 George Mason turnovers. The next night out they forced just nine at St. Bonaventure. That’s a serious discrepancy and one that makes it quite difficult to understand just how much havoc the Rams will wreak consistently without college basketball’s most exciting defender. So for that reason it’s all about some good old fashioned halfcourt defense for me tonight. VCU’s ability to keep Jarelle Wright and Jordan Price from racking up points in the paint could be key in the Rams quest to remain No.1 and in control of their own destiny in the hunt for VCU’s first Atlantic 10 regular season title.
LA SALLE WINS IF
La Salle is going to defend. Prior to their 66-59 loss at UMass on Sunday, the Explorers had held four of their previous five opponents under 60 points. The problem with La Salle is their ability to go ice cold from the field allows teams to keep games close even when they aren’t scoring, hence the Explorers 59-47 loss at Rhode Island. That means Wright, Price and Co. need to get it going on offense if they want to pull off their biggest win of the season. I’m of the opinion that involves a heavy does of attacking the basket instead of killing themselves from deep.
Kenpom: 71-61 VCU win with an 85% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 7PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, Richmond, VA
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