VCU will attempt to extend their six-game winning streak while looking to remain perfect in Atlantic 10 play when welcoming the Rams of Fordham University to the Siegel Center this evening. Get there early, be loud and do your part to see VCU through to their 12th victory of the season.
A QUICK LOOK AT FORDHAM
VCU got a preview of just how tough tonight’s contest will be when outlasting Fordham 63-57 in the first game of the black and gold’s 2015 A-10 tournament championship run. That was with Treveon Graham and against a team that didn’t look quite as good as Fordham has looked this season. The northern Rams are off to their best start since 1970 under new head coach Jeff Neubauer, a coach who almost pulled off a road win at VCU just two seasons ago when his Eastern Kentucky squad took VCU to overtime before coming up just short. Neubauer has quickly turned the foundation Tom Pecora laid at Fordham into a legitimately dangerous team thanks to a defense that quite frankly is wreaking havoc in a very VCU way. The Fordham Rams ranks seventh in the country at forcing turnovers, just three spots behind our VCU Rams. That is no fluke either as it’s been Neubauers specialty in both programs he’s coached. Neubauer-led team have ranked in the top-seven in defensive turnover percentage the last four seasons and in the top-100 nine of his 11 seasons as a D1 head coach. The Nuebuaer effect has turned Fordham from a team that ranked 203rd last season in adjusted defensive efficiency to one that’s up to No.111 this season. Offensively the Fordham Rams are basically night and day as well, ranking No.43 nationally in effective field goal percentage thanks to an offense that can hurt you both inside and outside of the arc. That effort has been led by seniors Mandell Thomas (15.5 ppg) and the mega-efficient Ryan Rhoomes (14.5 ppg on 69.7% shooting). Fordham has also been helped by a bit of a breakout year from the ever-promising but never-delivering Jon Severe (9.8 ppg, 35.8% 3p%) and what has been the conferences top freshman, Canadian point guard Joseph Chartouny, who currently leads the Atlantic 10 in both assists per contest (5.2) and steals per game (2.5). While these Rams are much-improved, they are still a work-in-progress, having lost all three of their top-100 games (none top-60) and have yet to win a game against a team ranked higher than No.225 via kenpom’s rankings. Long story short, they are in a better place now than they’ve been in a long time but still have much to prove. A win at VCU would no doubt help their cause this evening.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams have won six straight, five of which came by double-digits, three of which saw their opponents score fewer than 60 points. VCU’s scoring has come in big swings, going down double-digits twice at Saint Joseph’s — once in the first half, then again in the second — but had the lead at the end of each half for VCU’s toughest recent win. The black and gold also saw a 17-point first half advantage evaporate into a four-point halftime lead at Saint Louis before once again burying SLU in the second half for the 16-point win in a game that wasn’t even that close. Those swings have come from a VCU team that has at times gone ice-cold from the field, usually when leading scorer Melvin Johnson hits the bench for a quick rest and a couple swigs of Gatorade. He has however been helped greatly in the backcourt by senior G/F Korey Billbury who is now hitting over 40% of his three point attempts for an effective field goal percentage that has climbed above 50% (while basically doing everything else on the court you could ask from a player…LOVE Korey Billbury). Those two have seen their shots come easier via an improved JeQuan Lewis who has 26 assists to just 12 turnovers over his last four games and an A-10 assist rate of 41.4% that currently ranks third in the Atlantic 10 through three games. Those three however saw foul trouble early against SLU and the Rams saw a gigantic drop in production with their three backcourt leaders sidelined. Front court play has seen a surging Mo Alie-Cox who has scored at least 14 points in three of his last four games including a career-high 19 against North Florida. Alie-Cox plays smart, unselfish ball, has gotten increasingly tough to guard around the basket and is now finishing at a 73.8% clip at the free-throw stripe, a career-high. VCU will be without junior leader Jordan Burgess for “a few weeks” so will need to see continued improvement from all listed above as well as sophomores Justin Tillman, Michael Gilmore and juniors Ahmed Hamdy and Doug Brooks in Burgess’ absence. Brooks in particular saw a big boost in minutes (33, up from 16 the previous game) thanks to Burgess’ absence and managed to put together one of his better performances of the season. Dougie Buckets could be leaned on heavily again tonight with his team-best 8.6 turnover rate, staring down a Fordham team that feasts upon their opponents mistakes.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: FU 77.1, VCU 75.1
Scoring Defense: FU 64.9, VCU 65.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: FU 53.7%, VCU 49%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: FU 46.7%, VCU 49%
3-Point Field Goal%: FU 38.5%, VCU 36.8%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: FU 29.1%, VCU 35.3%
Rebounds per game: FU 36.8, VCU 36.8
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25.4%, FU 24.3%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 16.9%, FU 20.7%
VCU WINS IF
The Rams need to continue to defend at the level have they been and will need a nice night at the point guard position from JeQuan Lewis. Like VCU of years past, Fordham will throw a ton of bodies at the Rams backcourt the entire 94 feet of hardwood and that could create problems for Lewis who has struggled with turnovers a good bit of this season (30.3% turnover rate will be the highest on the court tonight among players who average double-digit minutes). If it’s early-season Lewis the Rams could have a rough evening. If it’s last-four-games Lewis, VCU could turn Fordham’s gambling and over-aggressiveness into open buckets for guys like Alie-Cox and Johnson.
FORDHAM WINS IF
Fordham needs to find a way for their success to translate against increased competition (as is the case with most teams, obviously). The northern Rams are 0-3 against top-100 teams and have played just two road games this entire season (both losses). Their numbers are impressive (see: tale of the tape), but those numbers are also likely skewed by 10 games against sub-200 teams. They competition ratchets up tonight against the highest ranked team they’ve played and in the most hostile environment they will have played in under Jeff Neubauer. Turnovers will be key on both sides. Fordham has done a great job of turning teams over but have helped negate that advantage by doing the same themselves. They’ll now face a VCU team that has been solid as a team in terms of turnover percentage on both sides of the ball, thus potentially canceling out one of Fordham’s greatest strengths. Winning the turnover battle would go a long way towards a Fordham victory tonight that would signal the return of Fordham as a competitive hoops program.
Kenpom: 77-66 VCU win with an 87% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 7PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA
Watch: American Sports Network, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation