VCU’s 2011 Final 4 team may go down as the greatest to ever wear the black and gold, but for the purpose of this preview intro, let’s take a second to appreciate the coaching talent on that team: Shaka Smart, Mike Jones, Mike Rhoades and a guy named Will Wade. All four are now head coaches, two of which can now claim to have been coaches at VCU. A third, Mike Jones, happened to be the first of the assistants to land a head coaching gig. He returns to VCU for the first time since that magical Final 4 season, bringing his Radford Highlanders to the Siegel Center just two days after upsetting the Georgetown Hoyas.
A QUICK LOOK AT RADFORD
It’s been a steady rebuild for the Highlanders 3.5 hours west of Richmond. Mike Jones arrived following Radford’s 5-24 finish to their 2011 campaign, endured two years of sub-500 play including a 6-26 introductory season, and has built them into a 20-win team poised for another solid year out of the Big South conference. So far, so good, as the Highlanders are coming off a surprising road upset of the Georgetown Hoyas in the opening round of this year’s 2K Classic (although something tells me Gazelle group won’t be replacing Georgetown with Radford at MSG next weekend). Jones spent the majority of his available PT on five seniors, out-experiencing the younger Hoyas roster while out-rebounding the Big East team in the process. The Highlanders struggled to connect on the deep ball last season (ranked 241st nationally) but hit 10 of their 25 attempts on Saturday in the win. It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but a combined 48 points from senior guards Cameron Jones and Rashun Davis after both averaging under double-digits last season proved to be the big junior to senior jump RU needed those guys to make. Last year’s Highlanders were a solid offensive unit, doing most of their damage within the three-point arc but saw a ton of that production come from the recently graduated Javonte Green. Defensively the Highlanders were solid last season but in Saturday’s win racked up 30 fouls and allowed the Hoyas to hit 58.1% of their attempts inside the arc. They are sure to see a heavy does of attacking Rams on Monday night.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
VCU has been a tale of two halves offensively in their two open-to-the-public games this season. The black and gold had a rough start but strong finish on offense against Cal U (PA) in this year’s exhibition followed by a strong start and slow finish against Prairie View A&M. The defense however has been tough throughout against those two out-matched opponents, helping the Rams to an average margin of victory of 30.5 points in those contests. This year’s version of havoc has used bigger lineups to hold both opponents to under 30.7% shooting or worse inside the arc, better than all 36 games the Rams played last season and an improvement on a major weakness from previous seasons’ smaller lineups. Despite the bigger lineups the Rams have also managed to maintain a level of havoc we’ve come to expect from VCU teams, forcing a total of 40 turnovers in two contests. Not surprisingly Melvin Johnson has emerged as this year’s Rams’ top scorer. He’s been joined however by some relatively new faces in transfer Korey Billbury, junior Doug Brooks, sophomore Justin Tillman and a junior version of Jordan Burgess who looks poised for his best year yet.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: Radford 82, VCU 75
Scoring Defense: VCU 50, Radford 80
Effective Field Goal% Offense: Radford 50.7%, VCU 47.7%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 33.9%, Radford 53.8%
3-Point Field Goal%: Radford 40%, VCU 30.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 30.8%, Radford 31.8%
Rebounds per game: VCU 47, Radford 43
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 30.4%, Radford 21%
Turnover Percentage Offense: Radford 18.5%, VCU 23.5%
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: VCU 103.6, Radford 99.4
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: VCU 93.3, Radford 102.7
VCU WINS IF
On paper Radford didn’t head into this season as an offensive juggernaut, so one would expect the Rams to do a solid job defensively on the Highlanders…on paper. The key will be in finding some consistent offense and based off the data we have of the Highlanders that would suggest shoving the ball down RU’s throat with penetrating guards and a low post attack from Mo, Justin and Ahmed (I also want to see Mike Gilmore play bigger, which I think will be his key to success this season). Play inside out and make Radford prove they can defend the paint, defend like I know we’re capable of and VCU heads to NYC 2-0 staring down a date with the defending national champs.
RADFORD WINS IF
Mike Jones has a very experienced group that has won at least 20 games their last two seasons. These dudes are used to winning and they just proved to everyone that they won’t be intimidated by large crowds or the name on the front of the jersey. The Highlanders rose to the challenge offensively and out-hustled Georgetown Saturday, winning the battle of the glass despite facing a Hoyas squad with a front court that starts 6’9, 7′, 6’10. Another hard-fought effort like that and a road win at the Siegel Center is most certainly possible. Defensively RU will need to protect the paint and hope for another off half or two from VCU’s three-point shooters. If RU can find some offense against a stingy Rams D, they could pick up only their second top-100 win this past decade and in a matter of two games.
Kenpom: 76-62 Rams win with a 90% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 7PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA