Game Preview: VCU at Middle Tennessee State [INSIDER]

JeQuan Lewis heads back to his home state of Tennessee where he'll look to pick up his fifth consecutive win over a home-state team. He's a perfect 4-0 thus far.
JeQuan Lewis heads back to his home state of Tennessee where he’ll look to pick up his fifth consecutive win over a home-state team. He’s a perfect 4-0 thus far.

VCU hits the road to Murfreesboro, Tennessee for the Rams first true road game of the season. They’ll take on their second consecutive Conference USA opponent in a talented Middle Tennessee State team looking pull off a marquee win in their home opener.

VCU (4-2)
MTSU (4-1)

A QUICK LOOK AT MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE

Head coach Kermit Davis Jr. and his Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders were the preseason CUSA No.3 pick and are looking to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since his 2013 team made it as an at-large selection out of the Sunbelt Conference. Davis’ squad won 28 games that season then managed another 24 wins the following year despite a slight jump in competition after joining CUSA. The Blue Raider’s entered last year’s conference tournament as the No.6 seed by fought their way to the championship game before falling to this year’s preseason No.1, UAB. This year’s squad returns the majority of the talent from that team and have won their last four contests after dropping their regular season opener at Murray State, 76-65. They’re led by sophomore Giddy Potts, a rock-solid 6’2 guard that’s averaging a team-high 15.4 points on 60.5% shooting including a red-hot 53.8% from long range. Behind Potts the Blue Raiders have done most of their damage on offense beyond the three-point line while limiting second-change points on D. Middle Tennessee ranks 11th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage thanks to guys like Potts and seniors Darnell Harris (26.7% defensive rebound percentage) and Perrin Buford (21.6%) as well as junior big Reggie Upshaw (19.4% and a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game). They’ll experience a big jump in competition against VCU today after racking up wins against teams ranked 135 or worse by kenpom, their best victory coming recently in an eight-point neutral court win over Toledo. Before that game MTSU survived three scares from inferior competition, beating Tennessee State (No.239) by three, Division II Alaska Anchorage by three and then UNC Asheville (No.194) by two. They play extremely hard and will be a big road test for VCU tonight.

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU

After a tough start against Old Dominion the black and gold played one of their better halves of the season, holding the Monarchs to 36.7% from the field while connecting on 60% of their own shots during the second half of Saturday’s rivalry matchup. They did this thanks largely in part to brilliant play from Mo Alie-Cox who played great help D on the Monarchs guards while forcing ODU to double him on offense, creating open looks for his teammates in the nine-point win. Only one Ram logged 30 or more minutes in that one, junior guard JeQuan Lewis who finished with a team-high 16 points, eight of which came on 10 free throw attempts. The Rams relentlessly attacked the Monarchs’ basket, drawing 24 ODU fouls in the process which resulted in a 12-point free throw advantage for VCU. VCU’s 76 points tied the most scored on ODU both this year and all of last season. The Rams have scored at least 71 points in every game they’ve played this season despite shooting just 66.4% at the free throw line for the season (234th nationally) and ranking 221st nationally in two-point field goal percentage. VCU’s 52% shooting from the field against ODU as well as their 71.4% from the charity stripe were both season-highs. They’ll need to keep that up this evening against a MTSU squad that hasn’t been the best at defending the paint (50% two-point D ranks 214th nationally) and is averaging 21 fouls per contest.

Scoring Offense: VCU 76.5, MTSU 70
Scoring Defense: VCU 64.7, MTSU 68.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: MTSU 53.8%, VCU 50.3%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: MTSU 48.6%, VCU 50.7%
3-Point Field Goal%: MTSU 39.8%, VCU 38.6%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: MTSU 30.8%, VCU 37.8%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37, MTSU 33.6
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25.2%, MTSU 18.4%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 16.7%, MTSU 17.7%

VCU WINS IF

VCU needs one of those second half versus ODU defensive efforts if they want to leave Murfreesboro with a win tonight. Middle Tennessee has a talented and experienced backcourt that will weave a team all night until they find an easy opportunity for a basket. That means the Rams will need to show the stout, disciplined team defense they showed in their last half of play. MTSU has won just one game when shooting under 50% inside the arc, a three-point escape of a bad Tennessee State team. Shut MTSU’s guards down and VCU has a good chance of moving to 5-2 with their first true road win of the season.

MTSU WINS IF

The Blue Raiders are stepping up in weight class tonight when they host VCU, MTSU’s highest-ranked opponent on their schedule. In order to secure the big win they’ll need an off night from VCU’s shooters — which they’ll hope to force themselves — while finding success inside the arc on the other end of the floor. The Rams have given up some huge games to good guards, including a 30-point night to Duke’s Grayson Allen, 22 points to Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig and 21 and 17 points to ODU’s duo of Aaron Bacote and Trey Freeman. VCU lost two of those games and while MTSU may not have guards quite on that level, they are still a very talented group capable of punishing VCU’s defense, especially with a more capable frontcourt than the one the Rams last faced in ODU. A shootout however could favor the Rams so MTSU will need to play at a level they have yet to hit this season. Winning by single digits over the likes of Tennessee State, DII Alaska Anchorage, Toledo and UNC Asheville is possible with a B or even C-game. MTSU needs an A-game against VCU to pull out the win tonight.

Kenpom: 71-70 VCU win with a 57% chance of a VCU victory.

Game tips at 9PM in Murfreesboro, Tennessee at the Murphy Athletic Center.

Watch: MASN2 & FSN, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Listen: 107.3FM
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation

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