Game Preview: VCU v North Florida [INSIDER]

Melvin Johnson leads VCU with a team-high 17.9 points per contest this season.
Melvin Johnson leads VCU with a team-high 17.9 points per contest this season.

VCU ends non-conference play at home tonight with a tricky game against an underrated North Florida squad coming off their first NCAA tournament appearance in the history of their program. The Rams have won two in a row and are looking to avoid becoming the first top-100 squad to drop a game to the Ospreys this season.

VCU (7-5)
North Florida (10-5)

A QUICK LOOK AT NORTH FLORIDA

The Ospreys are just a decade into their Division I existence and have wasted no time in establishing their identity as a dangerous mid-major thanks to a roster full of shooters that are currently the fifth best team in the country at hitting the long ball — a blistering 44.5% as a team. Head coach Matthew Driscoll has turned his Jacksonville-based team into one of the better offensive units in the country this season, averaging 85.5 points (16th nationally) while ranking 10th in the nation in effective field goal percentage. They are an incredibly experienced but not particularly deep, relying for the most part of six key guys (three seniors, three juniors). They are long but not particularly bulky, running a front court that consists of 6’9 215 senior Beau Beech, 6’8 200 senior Demarcus Daniels and 6’8 225 junior, Chris Davenport, two of which (Beech and Davenport) are shooting about 47% from deep while two (Daniels and Davenport) are connecting on 51% or better inside the arc. Do they have a weakness, you ask? Yes they do. That weakness, as it typically is with high-scoring squads, is defense. UNF currently checks in at 301 out of 351 teams in adjusted defensive efficiency. They are also a terrible rebounding team despite their length down low. North Florida is 0-5 in true road games this season, although they do boast a semi-away win over No.111 Illinois, 93-81. Outside of that season-opening upset they haven’t faired as well against top competition. They are 0-2 against the Atlantic 10 this season, having lost games as Dayton (86-71) and Saint Louis (70-57) and own an average margin of defeat of 19 points against top-100 teams including a 25-point loss at Arkansas (No.80) this past week.

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU

Despite the Rams six-point home loss to nationally ranked Cincinnati three games ago, VCU head coach Will Wade saw something during that contest that confirmed his Rams were playing with the right formula and were headed in the right direction. Since the loss VCU has blown out their last two opponents, defeating Buffalo 90-69 before dominating Liberty 85-57. VCU went up big in both contests before letting their foot off the gas late, particularly defensively, something the Rams will hope to avoid tonight. The vibe in the Rams’ post-game press conference following VCU’s blowout win of Liberty felt more like we had all witnessed a shocking home upset than a 28-point VCU win, which is the attitude and attention to detail that could and will hopefully turn VCU into an even more focused and dangerous team. After going 0-11 against Cincinnati, star guard Melvin Johnson has scored 37 points in 41 minutes of play over his last two contests, shooting a red-hot 85.7% from the field. Johnson’s play has been almost matched by backcourt mate Korey Billbury who is averaging 16.5 points over the last two contests in just 21 minutes per contest while starting point guard JeQuan Lewis has been on the rise as well, averaging 12 points and 3.3 assists his last three outings. The Rams have held their last three opponents to under 70 points each and will need another strong defensive effort against a UNF team that can kill teams from distance. This year’s black and gold squad has been forcing just as many turnovers as years past and have done a nice job on the boards, particularly in pulling down a high percentage of offensive rebounds.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Scoring Offense: UNF 85.5, VCU 74.5
Scoring Defense: VCU 66, UNF 78.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: UNF 57.2%, VCU 48.6%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 49.5%, UNF 50%
3-Point Field Goal%: UNF 44.5%, VCU 37.8%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: UNF 32.5%, VCU 37.2%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37.3, UNF 34.7
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25.2%, UNF 14.2%
Turnover Percentage Offense: UNF 14.9%, VCU 18.1%

VCU WINS IF

VCU must do a better job of defending the three if they want to avoid a home loss against North Florida tonight. The Rams rank 269th nationally this season in three-point defense and now take on the fifth best three-point shooting team in the country. Ruh roh, Raggy. North Florida will get up a ton of threes so (upper 20s into the lower 30s) so the Rams simply must defend the arc or it’ll be one seriously annoying night at the Stu. Offensively the Rams will need to attack the basket and finish. All four top-100s UNF has played (Louisville, LSU, Dayton and Arkansas) hit 54% or better inside the arc, combining for a 59.9% two-point field goal percentage against the Ospreys. The problem is three of those four teams have been very efficient inside the arc while the Rams rank 287th nationally in two-point percentage at 44.6%. VCU has however connected on 56% of their twos over their last two games so hopefully that trend continues tonight against North Florida.

NORTH FLORIDA WINS IF

Not hard to figure this one out. Contain the three and it’s a W for VCU.

Kenpom: 86-75 VCU win with an 83% chance of a VCU victory.

Game tips at 7PM 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.
Listen: 107.3FM
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation

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