The Black and Blue city championship gets underway today when VCU makes the short trip across town to take on rival Richmond in a 2PM Robins Center tip. The Rams are looking for their first regular season victory against the Spiders in two seasons. Richmond swept VCU this past year, only to see the black and gold get the last laugh by downing UofR in a Friday night A-10 tournament battle en route to VCU’s first-ever Atlantic 10 Championship.
VCU (12-5, 4-0)
RICHMOND (10-6, 2-2)
A QUICK LOOK AT RICHMOND
After years of struggling in the non-conference Richmond finally put together a decent OOC resume with wins over top-100s California, Northern Iowa and Wake Forest. Thanks to that, Richmond will hope to finish within the top-four in the Atlantic 10 to potentially turn those wins into their first NCAA tournament bid since 2011. The Spiders got off to a rocky start in conference however, dropping their first two Atlantic 10 contests, all-be-it to good teams in Saint Joseph’s (at home) and Rhode Island (away). They did however bounce back with a road win against a tough Fordham squad before returning home to dominate the Explorers of La Salle. Today they’ll need to prove they can beat the top of the Atlantic 10 with a win over our Rams today. In order to do so they’ll need another good day from the league’s top-rated offense while elevating their defense to slow down a Rams team that seems to be figuring out Will Wade’s offense. The Spiders have been a potent offense thanks to a core group of ShawnDre Jones, Terry Allen (A-10 POY candidate), TJ Cline and Virginia Tech transfer, Marshall Wood, all of whom can kill you from distance or slice your defense up for easy points in the paint. Outside of that foursome it’s Trey Davis with a dash of freshman Kwan Fore and that’s it. Richmond hasn’t shown much depth at all this season and that could become an issue today. Cline, Jones, Allen and Davis all played 30+ minutes in a blowout against La Salle, which should give you an idea of just how confident Mooney is in what’s left on his bench. That lack of depth could be a reason Richmond has struggled to defend all season. Foul trouble to the Spiders key players is a killer, which creates easier baskets for opposing teams. TJ Cline played under 30 minutes thanks to foul trouble in four of the Spiders six losses, averaging four fouls per 24 minutes of play over that stretch. When Cline and Co. are in however they are an incredibly efficient group, with all five of their key players shooting over 35% from long range, three of which (Jones, Davis and Wood) shoot over 40%.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The puzzle seems to be coming together somewhat for Will Wade’s new squad despite the absence of redshirt junior, Jordan Burgess. The Rams have won their last seven contests, completely dominating six of those teams. That stretch includes a 4-0 start to A-10 play, all-be-it against a pretty beatable schedule that has included the likes of George Mason, Saint Louis and Fordham — watch out for Fordham though, I still think they are underrated. VCU has strung together such a streak with a dominant defense that ranks No.1 in the A-10 and No.26 in the country. Offensively they have shown improvement as well, checking in at No.4 currently in the Atlantic 10 thanks largely in part to improved shooting inside the arc. The Rams have connected on 54.4% of their two-point attempts in A-10 play, seven percent better than their season average and tops in the conference currently. Justin Tillman’s 27-point career-high effort against Fordham is a nice example of how exactly they’ve been doing that. Tillman has averaged 17.5 points his last two games in 22 minutes of play, connecting on 83.3% of his attempts. He joins a surging Mo Alie-Cox in the front court who played limited minutes (16) in the Rams easy win over Fordham but is averaging a career-high 9.1 points this season while connecting on 56.8% of his attempts. Oral Roberts transfer Korey Billbury has been deadly from three this season, shooting a career-best 41.5% from range, a deadly backcourt combo when combined with Melvin Johnson’s team-leading 45.8%. Long story short, things appear to be coming together for VCU and the result has been seven straight wins by an average margin of victory of just under 20 points per contest.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: UofR 79.1, VCU 75.9
Scoring Defense: VCU 64.6, UofR 72.8
Effective Field Goal% Offense: UofR 57.2%, VCU 50.1%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 48.7%, UofR 52.2%
3-Point Field Goal%: UofR 39.2%, VCU 37.5%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 35.6%, UofR 38.3%
Rebounds per game: VCU 36.3, UofR 32.6
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25.3%, UofR 19%
Turnover Percentage Offense: UofR 16%, VCU 16.9%
VCU WINS IF
Two keys for VCU today: 1) Defend the three. The Spiders are one of the better teams in the country at hitting the three-ball so the Rams will need to take that away from UofR today. Here’s an example of what Richmond has looked like when they haven’t hit from distance: 12-point home loss to JMU (29.4% from three), eight-point loss to WVU (13.3%), 20-point loss at Florida (35%), four-point home loss to St. Joe’s (34.8%), 12-point loss at Rhode Island (33.3%). And key No.2) Win the details. VCU ranks third in the country at added attempts per game (8.8). Those extra attempts come from a top-100 offensive rebounding team and one of the best turnover defenses in the country. The ability to create all those extra opportunities really reduces the margin for error from opposing teams. If VCU can keep Richmond one-and-done OR LESS on offense, well, that would seem to take away Richmond’s strength, wouldn’t it? All that would be left for VCU to do is punish the Spiders’ weakness on the other end of the floor.
RICHMOND WINS IF
The Spiders will need an improved defensive effort to beat this VCU team today, and they’ll have to do so while avoiding foul trouble. VCU will most likely attack the Spiders depth by pounding the rock early and often as a part of VCU’s formula for success all season. If the Spiders can defend that without fouling, particularly early, they can get to the second half with all of their key pieces on the court. The Rams are one of the better defenses Richmond will have faced all season and the closest thing to the WVU and Florida teams defensively that gave Richmond so much trouble (held the Spiders to 59 and 56 points). Richmond needs to see that offense translate against the top defenses instead of just one that thrives against undisciplined defensive teams if they want to pick up a key A-10 win today.
Kenpom: 78-77 VCU loss with a 48% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 2PM at the Robins 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