What a wild conference season it has been. The Rams looked to be on track to fulfill their preseason expectations as the unanimous No.1 in a down Atlantic 10 but have lost five of their last nine and are fighting to avoid a Thursday game in Brooklyn. Davidson on the other hand started their A-10 ride at a mediocre 5-4 but have reeled off seven straight and are at this point the odds-on favorite to win an Atlantic 10 regular season title in just their first season in the conference. The Wildcats were picked to finish 12th but with a win tonight are in a dominant position to enter Brooklyn as the No.1 seed. VCU can spoil those plans and put themselves just one game away from a top-4 seed, not to mention a chance at still winning a regular season title, with a road win tonight.
VCU (21-8, 11-5)
DAVIDSON (21-6, 12-4)
A QUICK LOOK AT DAVIDSON
You’ve seen these guys before so here’s what you need to know about tonight: Davidson is 13-1 at home this season with an average margin of victory of 20.9 points per contest. Their lone loss came on a buzzer beater by St. Bonaventure’s Marcus Posley just a game before he did the exact same to VCU. The Wildcats were without second leading scorer Jack Gibbs in that one and were without Gibbs in two of their four conference losses. Davidson ranks seventh in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, their best ranking since 2008 when Seth Curry led them to an Elite 8 appearance. Davidson ranks 12th nationally in effective field goal percentage and are the second best team in the country at NOT turning the ball over on offense. Those are all terrible stats for a VCU team that will play Davidson for the first time without Briante Weber. Where Davidson has struggled this season is in defending the paint. The Cats give up 51.1% shooting inside the arc to their opponents, a stat that ranks 284th nationally.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
This has been what you would call one of those “unlucky” seasons for the black and gold. For starters there was the injury to Weber, quickly followed up by an ankle injury to leading scorer Treveon Graham. With both out VCU dropped two very unlucky contests to the likes of St. Bonaventure and La Salle, the first coming via buzzer-beater in a road L, the second coming in double overtime. Throw Graham in that lineup and what’s VCU? Probably 13-3 and in first place in the A-10 heading into tonight’s matchup. Ah, but it doesn’t work that way, so throw in a wild double-overtime loss at Richmond and a 4-point home loss to a very talented Dayton team and we have a VCU squad that has gone from unanimous favorite to fighting for a first round A-10 tourney bye. A win tonight however and VCU can still win this thing. A loss and the Rams are on the outside looking in thanks to a head-to-head tie-breaker owned by rival Richmond, not to mention VCU would have their first three-game losing streak since December of 2004. We’re talking high drama at Belk tonight.
Scoring Offense: Davidson 79.6, VCU 72.9
Scoring Defense: VCU 65.1, Davidson 68.4
Effective Field Goal% Offense: Davidson 55.4%, VCU 49.1%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 48.5%, Davidson 48.5%
3-Point Field Goal%: Davidson 38.7%, VCU 33.8%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: Davidson 28.9%, VCU 33.9%
Rebounds per game: Davidson 36.1, VCU 35.3
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 24.3%, Davidson 17.3%
Turnover Percentage Offense: Davidson 14.3%, VCU 15.1%
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: Davidson 117.5, VCU 107.7
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: VCU 93.3, Davidson 102.2
VCU WINS IF
For starters the Rams have to play “on edge” as Coach Smart would say and match their defensive effort from the first contest where they held the Cats to under 40% inside the arc and 10-28 from deep. That would appear to be more difficult without the services of Briante Weber but the black and gold have actually been quite solid these last few games on that end of the floor. Where things get dicey is on offense. I am of the opinion that VCU continues to go to a dry well on that side of the ball, the well being success from beyond the three-point line. VCU continues to to force things from deep despite the stats telling us they are a mediocre to bad three-point shooting team (10th in the A-10 in conference play, 192nd nationally on the season). 33.3% of VCU’s points come from distance, meaning VCU is the 58th most dependent team on the three in the country and third in the A-10 behind Davidson and Dayton despite not really possessing an ability to consistently hit that shot. To add to that, VCU’s primary big, Mo Alie-Cox, leads the Rams in offensive rating (117.8) and effective field goal percentage (58.1%) yet ranks 10th on the team in usage. Alie-Cox’s EFG% ranks higher than any primary big (Reddic, Sanders, Skeen) under Shaka Smart yet he is by far the least used player of the four as all of the previous three were a major part of the Rams’ offense (all ranking in the top-three in usage as the main big on their team). My point? Davidson is great at defending the three while we aren’t good at shooting it. Davidson is bad at defending the paint while we have a mountain masquerading as a man who’s really good at hitting “shots” (meaning dunking in people’s faces) at a high rate. VCU’s shooters need to be ready to knock down open shots but the Rams need to make a more concerted effort to get their bigs involved on offense (play inside out) if they want to pick up a huge road win tonight.
DAVIDSON WINS IF
When the Wildcats are hitting shots they are one of the funnest teams to watch in all of college basketball. They weren’t hitting shots the last time they played VCU, making them one of my favorite teams to watch in a road game against my VCU Rams. However, tonight at Belk Arena, the fans, senior night, first place on the line against the preseason No.1…everything sets up for one of those nights. VCU is on the ropes after back-to-back losses and Davidson has a serious opportunity to deliver a regular season knockout punch to the preseason No.1. If the Cats can force the Rams into a shootout, keeping the black and gold out of the paint and out beyond the arc where they have struggled, it could be a long night for VCU and a fun evening for the guys in red in Davidson, NC.
Kenpom: 77-73 VCU loss with a 36% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 9PM at John M. Belk Arena in Davidson, NC
Watch: ESPNU, 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