Before I get into talking about these teams, their A-10 standings and any bit of discussion of win streaks, let’s take a quick look at VCU’s recent history against Philadelphia teams.
VCU v Saint Joseph’s: Rams survived at SJU in overtime this season, fell at Saint Joseph’s two seasons prior thanks to a controversial charge call on Treveon Graham late then lost to them in the A-10 final later that season, which was a season after coming back frown down four with 14 seconds to play to beat the Hawks in an overtime Siegel Center thriller.
VCU v La Salle: The Rams dropped a tough home contest to the Explorers, and eventual Sweet 16 team that season. They then got some bit of payback by beating them the following season on the road, a 97-89 double-overtime marathon. La Salle rebounded by defeating a short-handed VCU team (playing without Weber and Graham) the following season, 74-69 in another double-overtime contest.
VCU v Drexel: The Rams fell on the road in “The Dac”, 64-58, then got the ultimate revenge by defeating the Dragons later that season, 59-56 in the CAA Tournament Championship game. It was the second consecutive game the Rams ended Drexel’s season, winning a 62-60 thriller en route to VCU’s 2011 CAA run that didn’t end in a tournament championship but did end in Houston at the 2011 Final 4.
There are MANY many more examples but the point being there is just some odd hoops magic to VCU v Philadelphia teams. The games are almost always close and always end in thrilling fashion. VCU will hope to avoid all of that tonight however, heading to La Salle’s Tom Gola arena to take on an Explorers squad that sits at just 1-7 in A-10 play and a rough 5-14 on the season.
VCU (16-5, 8-0)
La Salle (5-14, 1-7)
A QUICK LOOK AT LA SALLE
The Explorers were a loaded group when VCU entered the Atlantic 10. They boasted a backcourt extremely deep in talented guards and a young front court that was large and skilled. That team went from First 4 to Sweet 16 with just one exiting senior that following season. The senior, Ramon Galloway, proved to be a much more crucial piece than Explorer fans would have imagined, seeing Dr. John Ginannini’s squad go from Sweet 16 darling to sub-.500 squad the following season (15-16). The mediocrity remained the next year, seeing the Explorers finish a game over .500 and just 8-10 in conference play thanks to the graduation of remaining guards Tyrone Garland, Tyreek Duren and Sam Mill. That year’s team got by with talented Auburn transfer Jordan Price and bigs Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack, with only the former remaining on this year’s squad. It’s been a steady erosion of talent at La Salle and the results have followed suit. This year’s Explorers do boast a 20-point scorer in Jordan Price but even with the volume shooter’s high-average have one of the worst offenses in college basketball, checking in at 14th in the Atlantic 10 (of 14 teams) in adjusted offensive efficiency and 339th nationally (out of 351 teams) in scoring offense (63.1ppg). Defensively they haven’t been much better, ranking 10th in the A-10 in adjusted defensive efficiency and have been one of the worst rebounding teams in the league thanks to the departures of Wright and Zack. La Salle has just one win since November, all-be-it a shocking home upset of the Dayton Flyers, one of the A-10’s best teams. They held Dayton to just 57 points that day and will look to do the same against VCU tonight with one of the slowest tempos in the country (309th).
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams have won 11 consecutive contests with an offense that is now one of the hottest in the Atlantic 10, averaging an A-10-best 83.2 points in conference games. You name em, they are basically playing well, but JeQuan Lewis’ ascension has clearly been the catalyst. Lewis is finding guys all over the court and finishing at a very high clip. The junior point guard has caught fire as of late, averaging 22 points and 5.5 assists over VCU’s last four contests. He’s being helped all over the court but has particularly found a groove using bigs Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman who have taken their games to the next level since VCU’s Dec 19 loss to Cincinnati (read this article for an in-depth explanation of how). Defensively VCU has been impressive as well, checking in at fourth points allowed during A-10 play. Put both performances together and you have a +15.2 margin of victory in Atlantic 10 games. They’ll put that up against La Salle’s league-worst -13 margin in Gola tonight.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 78.1, LAS 63.1
Scoring Defense: VCU 66.0, LAS 72.6
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 50.0%, LAS 46.4%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 49%, LAS 52.4%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 38%, LAS 31.9%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 34%, LAS 36.1%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37.6, LAS 30.6
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 24.2%, LAS 18.8%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 17%, LAS 18.1%
VCU WINS IF
When was the last time you read one of these game previews and saw all green in the tale of the tape? Been a while, right? I almost can’t remember any game, truth be told. The Explorers are the third lowest ranked kenpom team VCU will have faced all season and on paper should be a heavy favorite, even on the road. VCU has improved with a steady, shall we say “formulaic” approach, as opposed to relying on talented players to make big individual plays. Make no mistake, VCU has guys who can do those things, but what has made VCU so deadly as of late, including on the road, is playing within the system. Do that again tonight and it could be a long night for the home team.
LA SALLE WINS IF
The Explorers haven’t offered many examples of promise but did pick up that one big home win against Dayton. How? Well, they slowed the game to a snails pace and defended well enough to escape, outlasting Dayton 61-57. They attempted the same in a recent road loss at UD arena but were on the wrong end of that yawn-fest, coming up short 59-44. I fully expect more of the same tonight against VCU, making each possession extremely important. The problem for the Explorers with this year’s VCU team however is this year’s Rams have been much more of a halfcourt squad than the fullcourt variety they sometimes needed to speed the game up to get points and wins. La Salle is extremely dependent on the three-ball, despite the fact they rank 274th nationally in three-point percentage. 38.4% of La Salle’s points come from behind the arc, making them the 16th most dependent team on the deep ball. They’ll need those guys falling tonight or the Ram fans who are making the trip up this afternoon is all you’ll hear in the Atlantic10.com broadcast/stream of tonight’s game.
Kenpom: 75-61 VCU win with a 92% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 7PM at Tom Gola Arena in Philadelphia, PA
Watch: A-10 Network on Atlantic10.com, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation