VCU dropped their first 2K Classic contest this Friday after leading Duke most of the evening. The Rams will hope to bounce back with a win over last year’s national runner-up, Wisconsin. The Badgers are coming off a 10-point loss to Georgetown and opened there season with a disappointing close loss to a Western Illinois team that went just 8-20 last season. Both teams will look to avoid going winless in Manhattan starting at 3:30PM today on ESPN2.
A QUICK LOOK AT WISCONSIN
The Badgers won 36 games last season before falling to Duke in the 2015 National Championship game. Gone from that team however are stars Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky (who’s now playing professional ball with former Ram Troy Daniels for the Charlotte Hornets) as well as senior Traevon Jackson and so far the Badgers have had a tough time adjusting. The Wisconsin offense has taken the biggest hit thus far, seeing their effective field goal percentage drop from 54.8% to 46.5%, and that’s against a schedule that has included Western Illinois, Siena and North Dakota as well as the loss to Georgetown (who opened their season with a home loss to the Radford team VCU beat by 18). Defensively the Badges haven’t faired much better. Their 52.2% defensive effective field goal percentage currently ranks 241st nationally thanks mostly to teams hitting a red-hot 46.4% of their threes against Wisconsin. Bo Ryan’s squad has been led early by the talented duo of Nigel Hayes (16 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4 apg) and Bronson Koenig (16.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg). Hayes is a 6’8 240-lb forward who can hit shots from anywhere on the court and has done a tremendous job of getting opposing players in foul trouble while Koenig (6’4 guard) is a deadly three-point shooter who can really stretch opposing defenses. They’ve been joined by fellow junior Vitto Brown (12 ppg) and freshman Ethan Happ (10.3 ppg) in the double-digit scorers club this season, two 6’8-plus bigs who are strong rebounders on a huge Badger starting group that goes 6’2, 6’4, 6’8, 6’8, 6’9. That’s also pretty much what VCU should expect to see most of the game against a team that will likely stick with roughly the same six-man rotation they used against Georgetown. Stylistically the Badgers are known for one of the slowest tempos in the game so they’ll look to dictate the pace this afternoon against a VCU program who likes to get up and go.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams have been a tale of two halves almost all season long, a pattern that killed them late this past Friday against Duke where they hit over 58% of their first half attempts only to see that number drop in 34% in the second, a cold patch that allowed a 17-3 Duke run to do them in. Offensively VCU has struggled with turnovers and hasn’t been quite as efficient in the paint as I expected them to be but technically have increased their two-point percentage (47.7%) over last season’s 46.9% two-point mark. Where the Rams have been sharp is from behind the arc, hitting 40% of their threes including a red-hot 54.2% from senior Melvin Johnson who’s averaging eight three-point attempts per contest. Foul trouble has been an issue from the Rams but VCU’s depth has helped soften that blow, getting a breakout performance from JUCO transfer Ahmed Hamdy who posted a career-high 10 points in his 12 minutes against Duke. Defensively the Rams have been a very tough team but the foul situation has clearly hurt the black and gold, averaging over 22 fouls per contest including a ludicrous 27 fouls called on VCU against the Blue Devils (no huge surprise there though against a team that is known for collecting friendly whistles). The Rams were outscored by 10 points at the charity stripe versus Duke in a game that was decided by eight. Overall VCU has looked very tough, but clearly the foul situation will be a point of emphasis for Will Wade’s squad going forward.
Scoring Offense: VCU 79.3, Wisconsin 74.5
Scoring Defense: Wisconsin 67.3, VCU 67.7
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 51.6%, Wisconsin 46.5%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 48.1%, Wisconsin 52.2%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 40%, Wisconsin 31.9%
3-Point Field Goal% VCU 34.5%, Wisconsin 46.4%
Rebounds per game: Wisconsin 39, VCU 38
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25.5%, Wisconsin 19.9%
Turnover Percentage Offense: Wisconsin 13%, VCU 19.1%
VCU WINS IF
For starters the Rams have to somehow cut down on the fouls, particularly against a Wisconsin team that hasn’t been great at shooting the ball from anywhere but the charity stripe. If I see one more Ram bump a guy 25′ from the basketball I might get a technical foul as a media member. Wisconsin is loaded with size and has always been a great team at winning rock fights, so a nice night from distance on offense would go a long way for VCU. Melvin Johnson has been on fire this season but is there a VCU guard who can help him offensively (and do so efficiently)? Johnson is the only Ram guard to hit at least 35% of his three-point attempts this season. He’s going to need a partner-in-crime from distance this afternoon if VCU wants to avoid leaving MSG winless this weekend.
WISCONSIN WINS IF
Wisconsin’s best night this season came against a Siena team the Badgers absolutely hammered down low. Bo Ryan’s crew hit 63.4% of their 41 two-point attempts and added another 25 points at the free throw line. Compare that to Wisconsin’s two losses, a 69-67 L to Western Illinois where the Badgers shot 36% from inside the arc and a 10-point loss to Georgetown where they hit 34.1%, and you can see how important it is for the Rams to keep Wisconsin from doing anything in the paint Sunday afternoon. If Wisconsin can win the battle of the front porches they have a great chance of going 1-1 in NYC and will have picked up their best win of the season.
Kenpom: 71-68 Wisconsin win with a 38% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 3:30PM at Madison Square Garden, New York, NY.