VCU tips up the 2015-16 regular season Friday night in an extremely rare regular season opener/homecoming combo. Combine two of the most electric nights on any given season, throw in the beginning of the Will Wade era and a heavily outmatched opponent and we’re scheduled for a VCU basketball supernova that should most likely consume the Panthers of Prairie View A&M in a flash.
PRAIRIE VIEW A&M (0-0)
A QUICK LOOK AT PRAIRIE VIEW A&M
Q: Montrael Scott, Tre Hagood and John Brisco. What do they all have in common?
A: They all led the Panthers in scoring last season and now no longer on the roster.
PVAM went 2-11 in last season’s non-conference schedule and will hope to improve on that record without the 39.3 points per game that led last year’s Panthers team. That’s a very tall task and one that starts at one of the most hostile arena’s in all of college basketball. While Prairie View wreaked some havoc themselves last season, ranking sixth nationally in defensive turnover percentage, they helped negate that advantage by checking in at 283rd nationally in turnover offense. Subtract their three best guards and you could have a recipe for disaster against a VCU team looking to prove that havoc does in fact still live here. A&M also graduated senior big Reggis Onwukamuche making this new group of Panther’s a very inexperienced team with a ton of question marks. VCU will likely throw their focus toward 6’9 senior Karim York (9.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg last season) and I expect 6’3 junior guard Jaryn Johnson to be VCU’s biggest challenge in the backcourt. Johnson played just 12.2 minutes per contest last season but flashed a little Bri-fense finishing with a respectable 3.9% steals percentage. He’ll hope to frustrate a VCU group of point guards who have all struggled at times with turnovers last season.
Player to watch: Karim York
Congrats Karim, you are now the guy, now let’s see what you can do against VCU. York will be a high volume guy for the Panthers this season and especially against the Rams Friday night as A&M adapts to their new-look roster. A 6’9 225 big who can step out and hurt you from deep but does the majority of his damage in the paint.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
VCU’s final box score against the Cal U (PA) Vulcans in the Rams’ exhibition opener reads complete blowout despite the fact the DII Vulcans were within 11 points of the black and gold with under 10 minutes to play. Then, at the 9:35 mark, Korey Billbury finished on a layup that would start an extreme VCU run, going 11-16 over just over five minutes to stretch the lead to 29 including 11 points from Melvin Johnson alone. The Rams bailed Cal out with far too many fouls throughout the night but otherwise were solid defensively. The black and gold looked rusty and a bit nervous early but managed to settle down late for the rout. After looking sensational in the Black v Gold game, the dynamic duo of Justin Tillman and Mo Alie-Cox weren’t able to dominate the paint early, combining for just six points on five total shot attempts in the first half for VCU. VCU’s ability to get those guys going early and often in my mind will ultimately set the bar for just how good of a team this year’s edition of the Rams will be. Getting last year’s most accurate three-point shooter back, Doug Brooks (40.8%), shouldn’t hurt either. Brooks sat out VCU’s exhibition opener due to coach’s decision.
Player to watch: Mo Alie-Cox
Like I said, Mo Alie-Cox helps set the ceiling for this VCU team. He is a physical force and a player we’ve seen use that size and ability to dominate at times (think that dunk he had on Alonzo Nelson-Ododa during the 2014 A-10 tournament). I want to see him dominate like I know he can, and I think for him a double-digit rebound average and close to 10 ppg is a fair goal for a guy with all those tools (I want to see Mo channel his inner Kenneth Faried and become VCU’s “Manimal”). No better way to pace himself and his season averages than with a strong performance against the Panthers Friday night.
TALE OF THE TAPE (2014-15 stats)
Scoring Offense: VCU 72, PVAM 67
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 48.7%, PVAM 47.5%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: PVAM 48.4%, VCU 49.5%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 34.3%, PVAM 33.1%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: PVAM 29.8%, VCU 34.5%
Rebound % Offense: PVAM 32.1%, VCU 31.8%
Rebound % Defense: VCU 69.4%, PVAM 59.9%
Turnover Percentage Defense: PVAM 24.3%, VCU 23.6%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 15.7%, PVAM 20.7%
VCU WINS IF
Prairie View’s best win last season was a three-point road upset of kenpom No.202 Texas Southern. That was with their top three scorers. Point being VCU will be a huge favorite in this one so it’s almost less a question of what VCU needs to do to win and instead what they need to improve on from the Cal U game. The two things I’ll be keyed in on are improved three-point shooting and a more convincing performance from our starting bigs. The Rams hit just 27.3% of their three-point attempts versus Cal U and were an ice-cold 2-11 in the first half. Getting Doug Brooks back should help that stat but I want to see what other guards get involved from distance outside of he and Melvin Johnson after losing Treveon Graham and his 38% on 168 attempts last season (not to mention Rob Brandenberg the previous season, Troy Daniels the season before that…basically, who are VCU’s shooters now?). I’ll also smile a lot bigger if Justin Tillman and Mo Alie-Cox dominate like I think they are capable of doing (especially against teams like Cal U and Prairie View). The Vulcans of Cal U did a great job of bottling up Mo Alie-Cox (2-7 from the field), so an efficient night from him and Tillman in particular would be a great sign for a VCU team that I think needs those two clicking to be a top-25 squad once again.
PRAIRIE VIEW A&M WINS IF
See above. Cal U ended up on the losing end of a 36-point blowout but were somewhat competitive most of last week’s game. How? Well free throws for one thing (Vulcans hit 21 of 27 attempts) but also by doing a solid job defensively against VCU’s bigs during a cold stretch for the Rams’ guards. The Panthers didn’t fair too well against top-100 teams last season, their best showing coming in a 12-point neutral court loss to Stephen F Austin (a very good team…we should know). They did that by forcing the Jacks into 21 turnovers (PVAM’s strength) and limiting SFA from deep (4-16). That should be the game plan Friday against VCU but they’ll need to add in some made shots, something that too didn’t come too easy for the Panthers this past season.
Kenpom: 82-59 VCU win with a 98% chance of a Rams win.
Game tips at 7PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA
Watch: CBS 6.3, Official watch party at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom. The game will also be broadcast on a big screen outside of the Siegel Center for fans attending the pre-game tailgate party that don’t have tickets.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation