The Liberty Flames will make the quick trip from Lynchburg to Richmond today when they travel to the Stuart C. Siegel Center to face the VCU Rams. The black and gold are the highest rated team Liberty will have faced this season, their only other top-100 contest coming three games into the season, an 11-point home loss to William & Mary. On the other hand Liberty will be the second lowest rated team VCU will have faced and the third sub-100 team VCU will have had the pleasure of playing this season. The Rams opened their season with a 25-point home win over No.347 Prairie View A&M, routed No.313 American 72-44 and after a slew of tough non-conference games will welcome No.343 Liberty to the Siegel Center for the first time ever.
A QUICK LOOK AT LIBERTY
The Flames of Liberty University head to the Stu at 3-10 on the season but a winless 0-10 against Division I opponents. Liberty has lost their last nine contest, a stretch that includes six losses against teams rated 200 or lower by kenpom’s computers. They rank 343rd nationally in experience with a roster that includes just one upperclassman, redshirt senior guard Anthony Fields. Offensively they have have done a solid job of finishing in the paint when they aren’t turning the ball over (which is most of the time) but overall are basically one of the worst offenses in college hoops (336th in scoring and adjusted offensive efficiency out of 351 teams). Defensively they haven’t given up a ton of points on the season but in terms of efficiency are one of the worst teams in the country. The Flames are led by 6’10 sophomore center Evan Maxwell (14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds) and the recently-activated Marquette transfer, John Dawson, who’s 15ppg over Liberty’s last two contests have been tops on the team. Even with Dawson the Flames are 0-2 including a nine-point road loss at No.284 St. Francis.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams snapped a tough three-game losing streak by dominating Buffalo in front of a partisan home crowd, 90-69 in a game that wasn’t even that close. The Rams forced a season-high 31 turnovers in the effort and shot 58.1% inside the arc against the undersized Bulls. The turnovers, havoc…if you will, have been consistent for the Rams all season long. VCU ranks sixth nationally in turnover percentage by forcing a turnover one out of every four trips down for their opponent and check in at No.2 nationally in team defensive steals percentage (15%). They are doing this despite the graduation of mega havoc-wreaker, Briante Weber, and a defense that presses less and wreaks more halfcourt havoc. The switch to more of a halfcourt defense has also led to a reduced two-point percentage for opposing teams. The Rams 46.2% two-point defense is their best mark since the 2008-09 team, Anthony Grant’s final season with the Rams. VCU will have a chance to pad those stats somewhat while improving others over the next several games. VCU has played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in school history and by my math a top-20 schedule among teams from the Power 5 conferences, Big East, Atlantic 10 or American Athletic Conference. VCU was unable to finish a lot of tough games this season but have been in every single game they’ve played and are a dangerous team heading into A-10 play and a terrifying matchup for Liberty tonight.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 74.5, LIB 63.4
Scoring Defense: LIB 66.5, VCU 66.8
Effective Field Goal% Offense: LIB 51.4%, VCU 47.5%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 49%, LIB 53.6%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 36.5%, LIB 32.1%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: LIB 36.1%, VCU 37%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37.4, LIB 29.9
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25.6%, LIB 17.7%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 18.2%, LIB 22.9%
VCU WINS IF
On paper this is a terrifying matchup for Liberty. VCU absolutely demolished a Buffalo team that was coming off an NCAA tournament appearance and now gets to welcome a very young Liberty squad into the Siegel Center in Liberty’s first top-100 road game of the season. Liberty is one of the worst teams in the country at holding on to the ball (and that was against a horrible schedule) and now faces a VCU defense that has been one of the best teams in the country at turning the ball over (and that was against a very good schedule). Basically if VCU does what VCU has done all year this game becomes a blowout of epic proportions. Add any bit of foul trouble to Liberty’s 6’10 245 big Evan Maxwell and the Flames have absolutely no size in the paint to matchup with Alie-Cox, Tillman, Gilmore and Hamdy Mohamed. Tonight should be fun.
LIBERTY WINS IF
Liberty is a conservative Christian school playing a game just two days after Christmas. Prayers will need to be answered for the Flames to leave the Siegel Center with anything other than a blowout loss today. The Rams are just a terrible matchup for Liberty across the board and defend well against what’s been Liberty’s strength: two-point shooting. The three-ball has been the great equalizer in college hoops in what have been on-paper mismatches (see: VCU v Kansas, 2011), but Liberty has shown no consistency from deep all season and ranks 239th nationally from beyond the arc at 32.1%. The superstitious will hate to hear this but there is no way Liberty comes any bit close to winning today, they’ll simply hope to avoid a blowout loss.
Kenpom: 79-56 VCU win with an 98% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 5PM in the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA.
Watch: CBS 6.1, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation