At noon today Old Dominion fans will get set for arguably the most important game of their year: a crucial kickoff against Florida Atlantic where the Narchs will look to become bowl eligible for the first time. That’s right, our old conference mates and basketball rival has turned football school on us. I wonder if they even know they are playing VCU today? Either way, Jeff Jones’ squad will hope to complete a great day for Old Dominion athletics by securing his second consecutive win against Ram Nation. This year’s mission however is made much more difficult as VCU will host Old Dirty in front of a blacked out crowd of 7600 screaming Ram fans, hungry for a key non-conference home win. ODU’s last trip to the Stu resulted in a 21-point loss during a big rebuilding year for Jeff Jones. A season later the Monarchs jumped out to a huge lead in a home game against the Rams before outlasting VCU by six. Game three of the VCU v Jeff Jones era gets underway at 4PM today. Here’s to hoping it’s the end of a miserable day for Old Dominion. Go Rams, go FAU Owls.
A QUICK LOOK AT OLD DOMINION
Former American coach Jeff Jones took over an ODU team that was a shell of its former CAA-dominating self during the offseason of 2013. Former Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor had uncharacteristically led ODU into the toilet after 12 seasons in Norfolk that included three CAA tournament championships. Jones took ODU from 5-win team before arriving to 18-win team in his first season then 27-win team his second year, one of those wins coming against our beloved VCU Rams. He did so by turning the Monarchs into one of the tougher defenses in NCAA hoops, a trend that looks to continue this season. ODU has played great D throughout their five games, limiting all of their opponents to 66 points or less, including 61 points surrendered to No.16 Purdue. Their 40.1% defensive effective field goal percentage ranks 15th nationally. The problem however for the Monarchs comes on the other side of the ball. ODU has struggled to hit shots all season, particularly from deep, connecting on under 28% of their threes in four of their five contests, the lone exception being a 9-14 night (64.3%) against Buffalo. ODU ranks 282nd nationally in effective field goal percentage offense. What complicates their mission even more is a recent injury to ECU Transfer Brandan Stith. The 6’7 post player was ODU’s third-leading scorer and their best rebounder before suffering an injury in a blowout of Morgan State. The Monarchs bring an experienced squad into the Stu today headlined by seniors Trey Freeman (17 ppg) and Aaron Bacote (11.6 ppg), a duo that combined for 46 points against VCU last year. They’ll need another great effort against VCU if they want to pull of the rare rivalry road win against the Rams today.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
After a strong start to the season the Rams picked up a couple of old fashioned “moral victories” in NYC, two close losses to last year’s national title game teams in Duke and Wisconsin. Problem is this ain’t 2006. We live in a post-Jamie Skeen era, we’ve been to the Final 4 and have hammered teams like Georgetown, Purdue and Kansas on the grandest stage, making this year’s MSG visit somewhat of a letdown. So how did those games get away from us? Well, for me the key was basically the Rams doing the exact opposite of what I praised them for most at the start of this season: defending the paint. After holding Prairie View to 30.2% shooting inside the arc (the best performance at VCU in years), the Rams have given up 54.5% to Radford, 60% to Duke, 53.8% to Wisconsin and 57.7% to American. They helped offset that against Radford and American by forcing a ton of turnovers and winning the battle of the glass, but it completely doomed them against the good teams. Easy buckets, can’t allow them and VCU needs to step it up big time tonight against and Old Dominion team that’s top-50 nationally in two-point defense. Offensively the Rams have struggled with consistency as Will Wade and staff continue to experiment with different lineups to find the one that fits just right. The problem there has again been inside the arc. VCU ranks 217th nationally in two-point percentage, hitting 50% of their attempts or better in just one of their five games this season — against Duke, oddly enough. In a nutshell, VCU is perhaps not surprisingly not that much different from last year’s team, which is a team that forces a ton of turnovers and steals but is a group that is inconsistent on offense and one that can be easily scored on on defense, that is if you can hold on to the ball.
Scoring Offense: VCU 76.6, ODU 65.2
Scoring Defense: ODU 56.6, VCU 64.2
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 49%, ODU 44.6%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: ODU 40.1%, VCU 50.2%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 37.4%, ODU 29.6%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: ODU 24.1%, VCU 34.2%
Rebounds per game: ODU 38.4, VCU 37.2
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 27.1%, ODU 19.8
Turnover Percentage Offense: ODU 15.7%, VCU 16.8%
VCU WINS IF
VCU needs an all-around improved defensive effort if they want to beat an ODU team that’s been consistently good on defense all season long. The Rams key has been forcing turnovers but face the second best turnover offense they will have seen all season in ODU (second to only Duke). If ODU can hold on to the ball history tells us even poor offensive units can get to the rack against the Rams and finish at a high clip (see: American). On offense the Rams need to get to the charity stripe and finish. Saint Joseph’s was the only team this season to hit 50%+ of their deuces against Old Dirty, and killed the Monarchs by racking up 26 ODU fouls that turned into 19 Saint Joseph’s points. Even with that they only scored 66 points, so the black and gold will obviously have their work cutout for them on offense this afternoon.
OLD DOMINION WINS IF
ODU has to hit shots. Last season’s Monarchs weren’t a particularly good offensive unit yet hit 52.9% of their threes against the Rams. They hit just 44% of their shots inside the arc but added 24 points at the free throw stripe, hitting 80% of their freebies to just a 59.1% free throw clip from VCU. Their 73 points that evening was the most points they scored against a kenpom top-100 squad all season long. They’ll need another special effort like that today if they want to complete the two-year sweep of their arch rival.
Kenpom: 69-61 VCU win with a 79% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 4PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA.
Watch: CSN-MA, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation