The Rams travel to Dayton today to take on a Flyers team in front of 13,000 in an A-10 finale that will either result in a share of the conference title or an outright regular season championship for VCU, the Rams first regular season conference championship since 2009. At 14-3 and a full game ahead of Dayton, St. Bonaventure and Saint Joseph’s, the black and gold own sole-possession of first place and at worst would share the crown with some combination of the aforementioned teams. Either a VCU win or a VCU loss with a St. Bonaventure win at Saint Louis today would give VCU the No.1 seed heading into next week’s Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn. At worst (meaning a VCU loss AND a St. Bonaventure loss) the Rams would share the title and play as the No.2 seed in next week’s tournament. VCU will take no comfort in that however, fighting to keep their NCAA at-large hopes alive and will want to leave nothing to chance with a loss at Dayton today. The Rams won their only game at Dayton since joining the conference and started their Final 4 run with a First 4 win over Southern Cal in UD Arena five seasons ago.
VCU 22-8 (14-3)
DAYTON 23-6 (13-4)
A QUICK LOOK AT THE FLYERS
Dayton started the season on a red-hot 21-3 start, picking up some of the A-10’s biggest non-conference wins, three in the top-50 and two more top-100 wins for a 5-2 out-of-conference top-100 record. They downed Iowa on a neutral court, won at Vanderbilt, beat a surprisingly good Monmouth team and destroyed the Crimson Tide of Alabama, 80-48. They had some close calls in there as well, surviving William & Marry in a 69-66 home win and fell in UD Arena to a UT Chattanooga team that was built the past two seasons by one Will Wade. Regardless, the Flyers boosted the A-10’s conference RPI early on and seem to have placed themselves firmly in this year’s NCAA tournament field because of it. It’s good that they accomplished that early however as Dayton has recently hit their roughest patch of the season, losing three of their last five including home losses to both St. Bonaventure and a very banged up Rhode Island team (without their best player, Hassan Martin). In their two wins they escaped Saint Louis with a three-point overtime win and defeated Richmond at the Robins Center this Tuesday by one point. Their two games preceding that five-game stretch also included a two-point home win over Duquesne and a two-point road win at Rhode Island. Moral of the story: Dayton’s record looks a lot better than their February play. Still, the Flyers have one of the most talented groups in the conference led by senior forward Dyshawn Pierre and juniors Kendall Pollard and Scoochie Smith. Pierre missed virtually all of non-conference play while Pollard has missed a total of six games this season including a four-game stretch during mid-February that saw the Flyers go 2-2 without him. Dayton’s rock however all season hasn’t been any of the three returning stars but junior JMU transfer guard, Charles Cooke. The 6’5 former Duke has the team’s best case for First Team all-conference honors and has been one of the most well-rounded players in the Atlantic 10 this season. Dayton has also added 6’11 268 redshirt freshman “Big Steve” McElven, a dominating shot-blocking presence when he’s not fouling out of games and a future star in the Atlantic 10. As a team Dayton is one of the best defensive units in the Atlantic 10, leading the conference in defensive efficiency by attacking the glass, blocking shots and making it hell for opposing teams in the paint with a team effort that is holding opponents to just 46% shooting inside the arc, second best among conference teams in A-10 play. Offensively Dayton can get very hot but has struggled with turnovers all season, ranking 222nd nationally in turnover offense. That could hurt them against VCU’s 7th-ranked turnover defense. Another potential trouble area could be in the Flyers defense of the three-point arc, where they rank 216th nationally on the season. They’ll need an improved performance against a VCU team that features three key players who all shoot over 40% from the arc.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
After a surprising loss at George Mason, VCU has bounced back to win two tough ones at GW and against Davidson. That small streak was enough to put the black and gold in the driver’s seat in this year’s A-10 race. The Rams however didn’t have the same level of non-conference success as UD and therefor have had to do all of their resume building within the A-10. A win at UD would go a long way towards getting VCU as close to locked in to this year’s NCAA tournament as they’ve been all season. VCU has shown new ways to win lately, defeating their past two opponents by 70 points or less in both games. The black and gold had struggled to win ugly earlier this season and had gone 1-5 in their previous six games where they had scored 70 or fewer points. Prior to this recent stretch the Rams had used an explosive offense to defeat most of their opponents, winning 13 games by scoring 80 or more points, seven more 80-plus performances than they had all of last season. The Rams have been the A-10’s second most efficient offense this season and rank just behind Dayton in defense as well, making them statistically the most balanced team in this year’s A-10 conference. VCU’s road win at GW was their first road win over their last three. VCU has won six of their eight Atlantic 10 road contests this season but will have their biggest test today in front of some 13,000-plus Flyer fans today.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 77.4, DAY 73.3
Scoring Defense: DAY 65.6, VCU 67
Effective Field Goal% Offense: DAV 52.7%, VCU 51.7%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: DAY 47.5%, VCU 49.1%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 37.1%, DAY 35.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 34.8%, DAY 35.4%
Rebounds per game: DAY 38.1, VCU 36.6
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 22.9%, DAY 17.7%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 16.7%, DAY 18.8%
VCU WINS IF
“Defense wins championships”. Right? Well today’s the day for that. A lockdown performance from VCU today and they can be as greedy as they want, won’t have to share the regular season title with no one this year. It would also go a long way toward taking Dayton’s massive home crowd out of today’s game. Dayton is full of experienced talent though, so the Rams will have to know their details and hit all of their assignments in front of the most hostile road crowd they will have seen in a long time. Dayton also defends the paint very well, so the Rams guards will most likely need stronger long-range performances than we saw these past two games, VCU going a combined 6-27 in the wins over GW and Davidson. Odds are the Rams won’t be able to dominate the paint like they did against the Wildcats in particular, so some help from distance may be required.
DAYTON WINS IF
The Flyers offense got rolling in a road game against the Richmond Spiders but had struggled somewhat heading into that one, particularly from distance. Combine that with a defense that has given up 75 or more points in four of their last five contests and you get the 2-3 stretch the Flyers are currently on. Both sides of the ball will be tested against a VCU team today that ranks in the top-two in A-10 offensive and defensive efficiency, the most balanced unit Dayton has played since losing 79-70 at Saint Joseph’s the middle of last month. VCU loves to attack the paint and will attempt to do so today, but against a Dayton team that defends it very well. The problem for the Flyers however could be in allowing open corner threes after crashing on the likes of Mo Alie-Cox, Justin Tillman and driving guards. Dayton has defended inside the arc all season long but if it comes at a price today via open VCU threes, that could be all she wrote for the Flyers hopes of a shared regular season title. The Flyers need an improved three-point effort defensively (or an off night from the Rams) and could use a foul-strapped Mo Alie-Cox as well, which would present matchup problems for VCU via Dyshawn Pierre and Kendall Pollard.
Kenpom: 68-70 VCU loss with a 42% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 8PM at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio
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