Hard to believe we are already down to just three remaining home games this season, the first of which tips at 7:30PM this evening against a tough Rhode Island squad. The black and gold Rams will face the Keaney blue Rams in a statistically-suggested rock fight. VCU is hoping to officially begin another win streak while remaining in the race for first place in the Atlantic 10 while Rhode Island will hope to avoid falling below .500 in conference play after being projected as the No.2 team in the A-10 to start the season. I’ll be shocked if tonight is anything but a battle.
VCU (18-7, 10-2)
RHODE ISLAND (14-11, 6-6)
A QUICK LOOK AT RHODE ISLAND
We’ll start with the obvious news for the Ram fan that doesn’t necessarily keep up with what’s happening around the league: Rhode Island’s star player, EC Matthews, was injured within the first 10 minutes of the season. Matthews was a projected NBA talent and Rhody’s returning leading scorer at 16.9 ppg last season. That was a huge blow and one that clearly has altered the trajectory of URI’s season outlook. Combine that with the graduation of role players TJ Buchanan and Gilvydas Biruta and this year has become more of a rebuild than what had been anticipated. The Rams however are by no means lacking in talent. Sophomores Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell have grown up quick, Memphis transfer (and former top-50 high school recruit) Kuran Iverson has been solid when healthy, Towson transfer Four McGlynn has been a great three-point shooting addition for the Rams while junior big Hassan Martin has once again been one of the most talented two-way players in the A-10. Still, all those new pieces have had to adjust and grow and so far this season that’s resulted in near misses in virtually all of their toughest games this season. Rhody is just 2-9 against kenpom top-100 teams, both wins coming at home over teams ranked 81 or below (Houston and Richmond). On top of that the Rams are just 2-6 in true road contests this season, their two wins coming at La Salle and in overtime against kenpom No.282 Brown. That said, they remain an incredibly dangerous team, having lost nine of their 11 losses by six points or less. Defensively Rhody is once again very solid, not quit the top-10 defense they were last season but at No.54 nationally in adjusted field goal percentage can still slow you down and shut you down. Offensively they have actually improved despite the loss of Matthews, going from 196th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency this past season to No.129 this year. They have done that with vastly improved three-point shooting led by McGlynn, Iverson and Garrett who can all hurt you from deep, with the sophomore Garrett currently leading the A-10 in three-point shooting during conference games at an eye-popping 58.7%. As a team they lead the A-10 in three-point shooting which could be an issue for a VCU team that has struggled to defend the three all season. Another potential problem for VCU? Rhody plays big. The Rams look quite similar to the teams that have given VCU the most trouble this season, playing a front line that consists of 6’7 230 Martin, 6’9 200 Iverson and 6’7 245 Earl Watson. That could be a problem for VCU tonight.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams got the ball rolling once again against an outmatched Saint Louis squad, blasting the Billikens 85-52 and snapping a two-game losing streak in the process. It was one of VCU’s best performances of the season, holding the Billikens to under 30 points in each half after VCU had previously struggled to bring two halves of dominance this season. It was however against the Saint Louis Billikens, a team that will in no way resembler the talented Rhode Island team that visits Richmond tonight. But looking past that two-game rough patch and commenting on this VCU team on the season, the Rams have been incredibly impressive, particularly in conference play. The Rams currently lead the conference in offensive efficiency. They have the second best effective field goal percentage in A-10 play, rank No.2 in both offensive rebound percentage and two-point percentage, are fourth in three-point percentage and have been fairly good at holding on to the ball as well, ranking fifth in the A-10 in turnover percentage offense. Defensively VCU checks in at No.2 in the league behind the Dayton Flyers. The Rams have been wreaking havoc in A-10 play, checking in at No.1 in the league in both steals and turnover percentage and have had the third best two-point defense as well at 46.2%. Point being VCU has been just a very tough Atlantic 10 team and one of the most balanced, if not THE most balanced squad in the conference. Having played just one player 30 or more minutes in their recent win over SLU (Johnny Williams), VCU should also be well-rested and healthy heading into tonight’s tough matchup.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 77.8, URI 70.2
Scoring Defense: URI 64.1, VCU 66.7
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 51.5%, URI 50.7%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: URI 46.9%, VCU 49.3%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 37.9%, URI 37.2%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: URI 32.5%, VCU 35.8%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37, URI 34.9
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 24.2%, URI 19.9%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 17%, URI 17.4%
VCU WINS IF
There are two key stats I’ll be watching tonight: offensive two-point percentage and defensive three-point percentage. The Rams have been very good at scoring inside the arc but have struggled all season against teams built like Rhody. Another sub-40% night would most definitely equal a loss for the Rams. The same games for defending the arc. Rhode Island has had the best three-point shooting team within conference play, an area of weakness for VCU’s D as exhibited by the black and gold’s recent letdown at UMass (who hit their first eight attempts agains the Rams in the upset win). VCU needs to fight defensively all night and run Rhody’s shooters off the line or it’s another home L for the good guys.
RHODE ISLAND WINS IF
A productive night from distance would certainly help, but outside of success from range, avoiding foul trouble will be the other key. Rhode Island is the top shot-blocking team in the A-10 but typically with lots of blocked shots comes lots of fouls (see: Larry Sanders or young versions of Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman). The Rhody Rams rank 13th in the A-10 in defensive free throw rate, so if VCU’s getting the calls tonight (and they will attack the paint to try and get em), Rhody could have to dig a little deeper into their bench than they’d probably prefer to for a road game at the Siegel Center.
Kenpom: 71-64 VCU win with a 78% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 7:30PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA.
Watch: CBS Sports Network, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation