It’s a special day in Ram Nation as the black and gold will honor VCU legend, Bradford Burgess, by retiring the former sharpshooters No.20 jersey in a pregame ceremony before VCU tips it up with UMass this afternoon. Burgess becomes the first Final 4 Ram (hopefully not the last) to see his name in the rafters beside the likes of Henderson, Duncan, Warren and Maynor. The Rams will also be striping the Stu in a special ray of light type of pattern that will hopefully have some magical effect on the weather around here, not to mention heat up the Stu for what would be a big win in VCU’s quest for their first-ever Atlantic 10 regular season title since joining the league in 2012.
N0.25 VCU (20-6, 10-3)
UMass (16-10, 9-4)
A QUICK LOOK AT UMASS
The Minutemen were one of the league’s hottest teams before dropping a 16-point road decision at Rhode Island, snapping their six-game winning streak that includes wins over the likes of Dayton, La Salle and St. Bonaventure, the later two both having defeated VCU during the Rams recent rough patch without Treveon Graham. The Minutemen have been fairly consistent/predictable this season, losing six of their seven top-100 games outside of Amherst (their lone win coming at La Salle, who they have beaten twice this season) while holding serve for the most part on their home court where they have pocketed four of their five top-100 wins (Dayton, Rhody, La Salle, Iona). Statistically UMass had been very middle-of-the-pack both nationally and in league play. They ranked eighth in the league in adjusted offensive efficiency and sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency. They don’t shoot well but crash the boards on offense. On defense they do a good job of limiting easy buckets but haven’t been great at rebounding or turning teams over. Ram fans will notice their lack of one Chaz Williams, the explosive pint-sized point guard who carried UMass much of their previous two seasons. In his absence UMass has seen an increase in production from guards Trey Davis (who leads UMass with 11.7 ppg) and Derrick Gordon (10.1), not to mention senior bigs Cady Lalanne and Maxie Esho. The new names to know with this group are freshman Donte Clark and WVCU transfer, Jabarie Hinds. Clark has been a nice backcourt addition for the Minutemen at 9ppg including 23 in a recent win against La Salle. He posted a career-high 25 earlier this season against Florida Gulf Coast, so certainly a player VCU must respect. Hinds finds himself at UMass after two seasons at West Virginia. He possesses some of Williams’ explosiveness and has improved as a consistent threat this season for the Minutemen. Like VCU, UMass loves to run and in doing so makes solid use of their bench, with nine players typically a threat to hit double-digit many.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
A healthy Treveon Graham and more experienced youth movement appear to have righted the ship after the Rams recent rough patch. VCU had lost three out of four games and went 1-2 without both Briante Weber and Treveon Graham in the lineup. Since Graham’s return the black and gold have picked up two blowout wins, the first in impressive fashion at George Washington followed by an easy home victory over a rebuilding Saint Louis. VCU battled even in their losses without either senior leader. The Rams fell at the buzzer in Olean with just two upperclassmen available, then dropped a double-overtime contest at home with the same lineup, both against very capable and very experienced squads. That experience could pay dividends come March (or February for that matter) when VCU’s nine underclassmen will need to be ahead of schedule to win the big ones in tournament play. The Rams seem to get a breakout performance on a nightly basis with so many underclassmen still putting it together. One night it’s Doug Brooks sacrificing his body on every play while tallying 14 points and seven rebounds against GW, the next it’s Mike Gilmore coming off the bench to score 10 points in 14 minutes against Saint Louis. The biggest revelation this season however as been the rise of sophomore JeQuan Lewis. Lewis has risen to the occasion since the Rams lost starting point guard Briante Weber, averaging 13.4 points, 3.6 assists and 2 steals per contest in his five games as Weber’s replacement. Lewis’ starting backcourt mate, Melvin Johnson, seems to be picking up steam as well. The No.32 train out of the Bronx has been limited with foul trouble but has connected on 58.3% of his 12 threes these past two games. A hot Microwave (as I think only Jon Rothstein calls him) spells bad news for A-10 opponents, as Johnson’s ability to wreak havoc on the offensive end was just as important as Weber’s ability to do it on the defensive end.
Scoring Offense: VCU 73.8, UMass 69.5
Scoring Defense: VCU 65, UMass 69.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 49.8%, UMass 48%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: UMass 47.5%, VCU 48.4%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 34.7%, UMass 30.7%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: UMass 32%, VCU 33.8%
Rebounds per game: UMass 36.2, VCU 35.2
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 24.7%, UMass 18%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 14.8%, UMass 20.6%
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: VCU 109.4, UMass 103.1
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: VCU 93.8, UMass 98.1
VCU WINS IF
VCU has forced 14.8 turnovers per contest in their five games without Briante Weber. That’s two turnovers less per game than their season average. I want to see if VCU can take advantage of this turnover-prone UMass offense (255th nationally) and post a classic 20-turnover afternoon at the Stu. If the Rams can do that while taking smart shots I think VCU officially locks up their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament bid this “early” in the season.
UMASS WINS IF
UMass is quite capable of pulling the road upset and I think they way they have to get that done is by locking down on the defensive end against a VCU team that has shown a tendency to go quite cold at times. UMass held their opponents to 61 ppg in their four kenpom top-100 Atlantic 10 wins this season. Those opponents connected on just 16 of their 53 three-point attempts (30.2%). That will be the key tonight, using their length to keep the Rams out of the paint while forcing them to hit the tough shots to win it from deep.
Kenpom: 76-65 VCU win with an 86% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 12PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, Richmond, VA.
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