VCU welcomes the No.20 Cincinnati Bearcats to the Siegel Center today in a rematch of last season’s 68-47 black and gold road win. The game offers up the Rams’ last good non-conference resume-building opportunity, as the Rams have gone 0-5 against top-100 teams this season, all of which however have come outside the friendly confines of the Rams’ home court. VCU will have their work cutout for them against an experienced Bearcat squad that to comes Richmond as the second highest ranked team the Rams have faced all season.
No.20 Cincinnati (9-2)
A QUICK LOOK AT CINCINNATI
The Bearcats return a large and experienced squad under head coach Mick Cronin and will look to return to the NCAA tournament after being ousted last season by top-seeded Kentucky. They buttered their bread all of last season with a stifling defense that ranked No.14 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. They’ve done more of the same this season by matching that No.14 ranking and have flashed an improved offense to boot. Improved three-point shooting and has helped the Bearcats to a top-60 effective field goal percentage to start the season, but that’s a number that could be somewhat deceptive at this point. Seven of Cincinnati’s nine wins have come against teams ranked 194th or lower by kenpom’s computers. The Bearcats are 1-2 against the top-100 and have averaged 64 points over those three contests, as well as a 65-point effort against No.110 Nebraska in a four-point neutral court win. Cincinnati is not a particularly deep team and for the most part plays about seven deep. That group is led by three seniors that include leading scorer Farad Cobb (11.7ppg) and leading rebounder Octavius Ellis (7.8 rebs to go with 10.6 ppg). They’re joined by promising sophomore Gary Clark who leads the Bearcats with a ridiculously impressive 134.5 offensive rating (28th nationally), doing the vast majority of his damage close to the basket at 6’8 235. Clark is one of three bigs the Bearcats will use a ton, joining Ellis (6’10 235) and Shaq Thomas (6’7 210) in yet another large group that stands between VCU and their sixth win of the season. Last season the Rams were able to negate that length by lighting up the Bearcats from long range, going 15-31 from downtown Cincinnati. Melvin Johnson tied Treveon Graham with four made threes in that contest while adding hot nights from Jordan Burgess (3-5) and the recent transfer Terry Larrier (2-3) in the win. Outside of Johnson no other Ram is currently shooting over 32% from distance so another three-point blitz might be tougher to come by this season.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
Long story short, VCU has suffered with consistency outside of team leaders Melvin Johnson and Mo Alie-Cox. The Rams have seen promising flashes from the likes of bigs Hamdy, Tillman and Gilmore but have been more dependent on guard play this season despite Johnson’s supporting cast being off to an icey-cold start. Point guard play has been an issue to start the season due to an injury to sophomore Johnny Williams and turnover issues out of junior JeQuan Lewis, who’s turned the ball over 41% of his used possessions in VCU’s four losses. Add to that the shooting struggles from last season’s leading three-point shooter (in terms of percentages), Doug Brooks, who went 5-30 from the field in VCU’s four losses to top-100 teams, and it’s just been a huge struggle against quality competition for the Rams. VCU’s defense has been able to lockdown opponents at times but have been handicapped greatly by an offense that essentially turns the ball over with poor shot selection and an inability to finish. Will Wade and staff will be forced to make some changes today due to an inactive Jordan Burgess who will sit due to a concussion. Will the injury create an unplanned change that could lead to an offensive breakthrough for the Rams? Will find out soon enough.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: UC 78.9, VCU 72.9
Scoring Defense: UC 59.1, VCU 66.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: UC 53.5%, VCU 47.2%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: UC 43.3%, VCU 48.7%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 36.8%, UC 36.5%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: UC 35.1%, VCU 35.4%
Rebounds per game: UC 40.6, VCU 37.6
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 24.9%, UC 22%
Turnover Percentage Offense: UC 17.8%, VCU 18.1%
VCU WINS IF
The Rams need a severely improved shooting night if they want to outlast one of the toughest teams they’ll play all year in the Cincinnati Bearcats. Scoring has been complicated enough for the Rams and in walks the best defense the black and gold has faced all season. Mel has to be Mel but will need at least one other guy, be it a JeQuan Lewis, Doug Brooks or Michael Gilmore to help loosen the Bearcats D up by creating some space via the three ball. If VCU can find any success in that that could create easier opportunities for guys like Hamdy, Alie-Cox and Tillman down low.
CINCINNATI WINS IF
The Bearcats are more than happy to win in a rock fight so a low-scoring night could favor Mick Cronin’s crew. Cinci has struggled to hit threes against the top teams they’ve played, going a combined 15-47 (31.9%) from deep in their two losses this season, so I’d expect the Bearcats to try and do most of their work inside the arc on offense, using Ellis, Thomas and Clark to attack a VCU interior that’s not used to using larger lineups for extended periods of time. As great as Melvin Johnson has been, Cinci’s Farad Cobb has been equally impressive, connecting on 45% of his 64 three-point attempts as well. A big night from Cobb could result in the Bearcats 10th win of the season and the first three-game losing streak for this year’s VCU Rams.
Kenpom: 71-70 Cincinnati win with a 50% chance of a VCU victory (coin flip game).
Game tips at 4PM in the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA.
Watch: CBS Sports Network, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation