Game Preview: VCU at Saint Louis [INSIDER]

Michael Gilmore scored a then-career-high 10 points in his last meeting with Saint Louis this past season.
Michael Gilmore scored a then-career-high 10 points in his last meeting with Saint Louis this past season.

VCU is coming off a huge road comeback win at Saint Joseph’s and will take their roadshow to the city of Saint Louis with a matchup against a Billikens team coming off a bit of a shocking home upset of George Washington. One team will remain hot after today’s 4PM battle, a chance for SLU to earn a second major upset win in front of their home crowd and an opportunity for our Rams to extend their win streak to six before returning home to Richmond.

VCU (10-5)
SAINT LOUIS (6-8)

A QUICK LOOK AT SAINT LOUIS

The Jim Crews era in Saint Louis took a plunge after the graduation of the 2014 seniors that led the program back to prominence. Since the departures of Jett, Evans, McCall, Loe and Barnett, SLU has gone 17-29 and just 4-16 in Atlantic 10 contests. The Billikens are a year more mature but haven’t shown a ton of improvement in the second year competing with predominantly Crews’ recruits. SLU is up to No.228 in kenpom’s current rankings (jumped 25 spots after the upset of GW) after finishing last season No.298 nationally. They’ve defended a bit better and are scoring better inside the arc but overall have struggled. The Billikens are just 5-5 at home this season with four sub-100 losses to the likes of Morehead State (60-46), Tennessee Martin (82-76), Indiana State (76-68) and Southern Illinois (65-52) and were routed earlier this season by No.23 Wichita State, 68-53. They are now 1-4 against kenpom top-100 squads thanks to their three-point home win over GW and are just 2-7 overall since the start of December. The Bills offense has killed them the majority of the year and they have struggled with turnovers, ranking 310th nationally in turnover offense heading into today’s matchup against the nation’s fifth-ranked turnover defense in VCU. As a team SLU has struggled from deep but have two capable shooters in Davell Roby and Mike Crawford, the later of which is one of three double-digit scorers for the Billikens at 10.5 points per contest. He’s joined by leading scorer (11.1 ppg), Villanova transfer Ash Yacoubou, as well as promising sophomore Miles Reynolds (10.7 ppg). All three do the majority of their damage in the paint, finishing at 50% or better inside the arc. VCU will look to force that trio into tough shots from long range tonight.

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU

The Rams makeup has changed a bit this morning, losing starter and defensive standout Jordan Burgess indefinitely to a hand injury. Burgess has helped lead the A-10’s top-ranked defense, VCU’s identity thus far this season. The Rams went 1-1 in their previous two contests without Burgess this season, losing by six at home to Cincinnati before blowing out Buffalo at the Siegel Center. VCU head coach Will Wade was impressed with VCU’s performance in those two games, even in the loss to the Bearcats and has previously mentioned those games as a bit of a turning point for the black and gold. Korey Billbury and Michael Gilmore were the biggest recipients of Burgess’ vacated minutes in those two contests, Billbury playing 37 minutes in the close game against Cincinnati (10 above his season average) while Michael Gilmore averaged 23.5 minutes over those two games, 10 minutes above his season average. Sophomore Justin Tillman and JUCO transfer Ahmed Hamdy saw increased minutes in those games as well so expect Billbury to see the most added PT if today’s game is close and a committee approach if the Rams can go up double-digits. Offensively the Rams have hit an extra gear over their current five-game winning streak, averaging 82.2 points per game, 6.9 points above their season average. Defensively the Rams have held their nine sub-100 kenpom opponents to under 60 points per contest while defeating sub-200 opponents by an 79-54 on average. The Rams are 2-1 in true road games this season, escaping No.133 MTSU 62-56, No.71 Saint Joseph’s 85-82 and losing to No.56 Georgia Tech 77-64.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Scoring Offense: VCU 75.3, SLU 64.1
Scoring Defense: VCU 65.9, SJU 68.1
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU48.6%, SLU 48.3%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: SLU 49%, VCU 49.3%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 36.4%, SLU 30.7%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: SLU 33.2%, VCU 36%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37.3, SLU 32.6
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25%, SLU 19%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 16.4%, SLU 21.2%

VCU WINS IF

If you like numbers you have to love how VCU’s turnover defense (No.5 nationally) matches up against SLU’s turnover offense (No.310 nationally). On paper that is a major advantage for the Rams so another havoc-filled night for the Rams would go a long way toward moving VCU to 11-5 on the season. That wasn’t necessarily the case however last season as VCU forced “just” 14 Billikens turnovers with Briante Weber on the court (not a terrible number but not really a VCU number either). The result was a two-point VCU win thanks to some late heroics from Treveon Graham. The Billikens also did a solid job of scoring inside the arc in that one, connecting on 51.4% of their 35 two-point attempts. SLU did a nice job of keeping the game close by forcing the Rams into a poor-shooting rock fight that Crews and Co. came close to turning into an upset win.

SLU WINS IF

Stout defense and a careful offense will go a long way in pulling off the upset. It’s basically the recipe La Salle used to defeat Dayton in Saturday’s big A-10 upset and the one the Billikens employed to take down George Washington. Slow the game down, defend the arc and hold on to the ball, otherwise it’s nine losses over 11 games for Saint Louis.

Kenpom: 72-64 Rams win with a 79% chance of a VCU victory.

Game tips at 4PM at Chaifetz Arena in Saint Louis, MO.

Watch: NBC Sports Network, 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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