YOUR VCU Rams are riding an eight-game winning streak, are alone in first place of the Atlantic 10 and are trying to extend their home consecutive sellout streak to 80 games by this weekend. That is my brief State of Ram Nation address.
Things are good, but as Will Wade’s former mentor Tommy Amaker used to say, “peacock today, feather duster tomorrow”. The Rams will hope to avoid becoming a common household cleaning tool tonight when they will try to avoid a letdown against a Duquesne team that is dangerous enough to hand the Rams a home loss.
Enough already, let’s preview the matchup!
VCU (13-5, 5-0)
DUQUESNE (12-6, 2-3)
A QUICK LOOK AT DUQUESNE
The Dukes got off to one of their best non-conference starts in years and their best under fourth-year head coach, Jim Ferry, winning 10 of their 12 non-conference games, all-be-it against what I might call a “very winnable schedule”. I’m calling it that. I just called it that. That said, when you zoom in a little and look at their games against top competition it’s clear they are still very much a work in progress. The Dukes are 3-6 against the kenpom top-150 and 1-4 against the top-100 of that group, their lone win coming this Saturday at home over No.89 St. Bonaventure. Prior to defeating the Bonnies they had taken down SLU at home, 81-71, a two-game win streak that snapped a four-game losing streak. To Duquesne’s credit however they were competitive in about three of those four losses including a six-point road loss against a tough Georgia Tech team that handed VCU their only double-digit defeat of the season. So far in conference play the Dukes have almost seen a flip-flop of last year’s team strengths, ranking sixth in A-10 defensive efficiency thanks to a D that has been incredibly stingy inside the arc but checking in at just 11th in offensive efficiency thanks to 25.7% three-point shooting in conference games, which currently ranks last in the A-10. Last year’s Dukes offense ranked fourth in the conference while their D checked in at dead last. To me that makes them somewhat hard to predict this early in league play. What’s not hard to predict is who Ferry will need to need to have big games tonight: Derrick Colter and Micah Mason. For starters, while I don’t typically give shout-outs to opposing players in game previews, I have to do so right now to Colter for making my “Mad Respect Team”. Colter is a cancer survivor. MAD RESPECT. I will root hard against him on the court tonight but have been a huge fan of his off the court since his diagnosis. And that should tell you just how tough of a player/person VCU will face tonight in the Duke’s leading scorer, Colter (17.4 ppg). He’s an undersized guard, the type that has given VCU trouble over the year’s. He’s joined in the backcourt by three-point marksman, Micah Mason. Mason is shooting “just” 40% from deep this season. I say just in quotes because that’s a career-low for him. Mason shot over 50% his first two seasons including 56% (56%!!!!) his sophomore season on 116 attempts. He led the country in o-rating, efg% and basically every shooting stat that season. VCU will have to keep an eye on him tonight. The Dukes run about a 6.5-man rotation with Colter, Mason and 6’8 Chesterfield, VA native LG Gill seeing a ton of minutes. They are joined by a batch of sophomores that are basically all hitting 60% or better inside the arc, a team strength for the Dukes. Duquesne plays more zone than most teams the Rams has faced this season and will hope that zone doesn’t get blitz by the likes of Melvin Johnson, Korey Billbury and JeQuan Lewis. They’re looking for their first road win of the season, having lost their previous three including their most recent contest, a 91-64 defeat at the hands of George Washington.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
VCU has been harder than woodpecker lips in A-10 play and nearly impossible to kill. The Rams have picked up two HUGE A-10 road wins already (three A-10 road wins in total, see how important that is in a recent article I wrote), coming back from double-digit deficits not once but twice at Saint Joseph’s to secure a W against the Hawks, then outlasting rival Richmond in a back-and-forth battle that ended with VCU victorious. Road wins in conference are harder than the average fan would think (see: Dayton at La Salle, GW at Saint Louis or Kansas at Oklahoma State if you want an extreme recent example). At home the Rams have had just one blemish, dropping a game to then-No.23 ranked Cincinnati, 69-63, but have since have won all their home games by an average margin of victory of 23.8 points per game. VCU has helped achieve that margin by creating the nation’s third-largest amount of extra attempts per contest in home games at 12.4 extra shots per game than their opponents. That’s a tough number to overcome, especially when you’re a Duquesne team that has averaged -3.3 per away game. VCU is able to achieve that number thanks to a top-75 offensive rebound percentage (Rams rebound 33.4% of their own misses) and a defensive that currently ranks No.4 nationally in turnover percentage D, turning their opponents over essentially one of every four trips down the court (24.8%). We call that havoc here at VCU. Individually the Rams have seen a hot Melvin Johnson all season, basically a guy having a historic season from deep. Johnson could be a target for double-teams if not for a surging Korey Billbury, who’s now shooting 42.9% from distance, as well as point guard JeQuan Lewis who just dumped a career-high 29 points on Richmond and averaged 24 ppg in VCU’s two top-100 A-10 road wins. Throw in a group of bigs in Alie-Cox, Tillman, Gilmore and Hamdy Mohamed who have all proven deadly at times and you see a roster that is quite hard to game plan for.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: DU 79.1, VCU 76.9
Scoring Defense: VCU 66, DU 75.2
Effective Field Goal% Offense: DU 53.2%, VCU 50.3%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: DU 48%, VCU 49.1%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 37.5%, DU 34.8%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 34.4%, DU 39.8%
Rebounds per game: DU 40.3, VCU 36.8
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 24.8%, DU 15.9%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 16.9%, DU 18.8%
VCU WINS IF
Two things I think would be huge tonight: 1) Hit threes and 2) wreak havoc. I expect the Rams to see plenty of zone defense from Duquesne tonight so it will be up to VCU’s backcourt (plus Michael Gilmore) to make the Dukes pay for open looks from deep. We need Melvin, Korey, JeQuan, Doug and Mike to put on their brown suits and proton packs and play the role of Zone-Busters. Defensively the Rams need to defend much better than they did at Richmond. What the Spiders were good at that the Dukes aren’t however is in holding on to the ball. On paper VCU has a good chance at wreaking some havoc against what’s been a turnover-prone Duquesne offense. The Dukes have turned the ball over 20% of their offensive possessions in A-10 play while VCU’s defense is turning teams over an A-10 conference play best 23.9%. That’s a great matchup for VCU and one the Rams could use to secure their ninth-consecutive win tonight.
DUQUESNE WINS IF
The Dukes just dropped 95 on St. Bonaventure in Duquesne’s best win of the season. They did so by out-rebounding the hell out of Bona (+17) while cutting up their defense for a 64% shooting mark inside the arc, adding another 24 points off free throws. VCU looked vulnerable to such penetration against Richmond and have been very foul-prone this season. If VCU defends like they did against Richmond and the shots aren’t falling against a tougher Duquesne defense it’s no more win-streak for the black and gold. VCU narrowly avoided a road upset at Duquesne last season, getting out-rebounded by 11 and allowing the Dukes to hit 53.3% of their shots inside the arc. VCU needs to do a better job inside the arc tonight.
Kenpom: 83-69 VCU win with a 90% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 7PM at the Siegel Center in Richmond, VA
Watch: MASN, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation