After over a month of non-stop winning, VCU finally lost. The Rams suffered a tough three-point home loss to George Washington and will hope to rebound on the road tonight, taking on a UMass team that had won just one game during the span of VCU’s 12-game streak. VCU will hope to remain tied atop the A-10 with a win tonight while also picking their first road win in Amherst since joining the Atlantic 10. Here’s the preview.
VCU (17-6, 9-1)
UMASS (9-13, 2-8)
A QUICK LOOK AT UMASS
The Minutemen had been solid in all three of VCU’s previous seasons of A-10 play but have taken a big step backwards this year thanks to the departures of three key pieces: Cady Lalanne (2nd round NBA Draft pick), Maxie Esho (graduation) and Derrick Gordon (transfer). UMass’ offense had been on a steady decline the past three seasons but fell off a cliff this year thanks to those departures, seeing the Minutemen check in at No.229 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. They rank 11th in Atlantic 10 in that stat since conference play began, checking in in dead-last in three-point percentage at 28.1%. Defensively they haven’t faired much better. They’ve defended the three well but (and VCU fans will love this) have been one of the worst fouling teams in the country, ranking 323rd nationally (and last in the A-10) in defensive free throw rate. That is music to the ears of a VCU team who’s goal is to attack the basket to get other teams in foul trouble. UMass does however have some talented pieces, led by the guard trio of Donte Clarke (18.9ppg) , Trey Davis (17.4 ppg) and Jabarie Hinds (12.6 ppg). Both Clarke and Davis are capable three-point shooters while Hinds is more of a slasher and distributor. Derek Kellogg’s squad is young and most certainly in a season-long rebuild. With that, the UMass head coach has done a solid job of spreading out his minutes among players, playing about an eight-man rotation that may not benefit UMass this season but should prove beneficial when the A-10’s top 2016 recruiting class gets to town.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams lost their first game in over a month but are still completely in control of their A-10 destiny. What killed the black and gold against GW was what has killed them all season: talented size. VCU has feasted on the Atlantic 10 thanks to a patient offense that has been one of VCU’s best two-point finishing groups in years. They were anything but that in the loss to GW, taking some of what I like to call “hero shots” early in the shot clock, resulting in a 37.2% two-point night, their first sub-40% game since three consecutive losses to FSU, Georgia Tech and Cincinnati. Prior to the loss against GW VCU had shot 50% or better inside the arc in 11 of their 12 most recent wins. That will once again be key tonight against a UMass defense that ranks 213th nationally in two-point percentage. In order for that to happen the black and gold will need patience and a trust in their bigs.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 78.1, UMass 74.7
Scoring Defense: VCU 67.2, UMass 77.2
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 51.1%, UMass 49%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: UMass 49%%, VCU 49.4%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 38.4%, UMass 32.6%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: UMass 31.7%, VCU 34.9%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37.4, UMass 36.4
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 24.8%, UMass 17%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 16.8%, UMass 17.3%
VCU WINS IF
This is a personal observation but I think the numbers (and Will Wade) will back me up: VCU didn’t play within the system against George Washington, at least as well as they had in previous contests. At times players were swinging for the fences instead of trying to just get on base, taking ill-advised threes and tough early shot clock shots. If VCU plays smart, plays patient and operates within the system, UMass will mess up, allowing easy buckets for the Rams. Defensively the Rams need to bring it for two halves. The black and gold are giving up just over 10 more points in second halves of A-10 games than they are the first. Why is that? My initial theory was that number was skewed by backups getting more playing time in the second halves of games due to large leads, but those poor defensive second halves applied to close games against good teams as well. So with that in mind, my second theory is that VCU’s key players tend to play softer in the second to avoid foul trouble. It’s a similar theory to the career blocks percentage numbers of Mo Alie-Cox, Justin Tillman and Larry Sanders, all of who saw their blocks percentage numbers (that being percentage of shots blocked while on the floor) decline. Basically the more important you become to a team as you progress through your career, the more important it is you stay on the floor, thus avoiding foul trouble. So second half defense is almost guaranteed to take a hit. So basically your key players have to soften up on defense to stay on the floor, leaving you the only alternative to bring in guys who aren’t quite as talented at this point in their careers which will 1) also hurt you on D and 2) hurt you on offense as well. I’m not sure what the fix is to that problem, other than basically having your reserves step up their game.
UMASS WINS IF
UMass’ ability to defend the paint will have a major say in tonight’s result. As mentioned earlier, if you can hold the Rams to sub-40% two-point shooting, you have a MUCH better chance of beating the Rams and most likely your team wins that game. Allow VCU to shoot 50% inside the arc and you are more or less screwed. That’s the key for the Minutemen tonight.
Kenpom: 79-70 VCU win with an 81% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 7PM at the Mullins Center in Amherst, MA
Watch: ESPNU, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation