Game Preview: VCU v Saint Joseph’s, Atlantic 10 Championship [INSIDER]

Melvin Johnson played just 20 minutes in VCU's rout of Davidson but may need a big game today for the Rams to defeat Saint Joseph's.
Melvin Johnson played just 20 minutes in VCU’s rout of Davidson but may need a big game today for the Rams to defeat Saint Joseph’s.

Another Sunday in Brooklyn means another A-10 tournament championship appearance for the Rams. VCU will play in their fourth consecutive A-10 tourney final, looking to defend last year’s championship against a Saint Joseph’s program that won it the season prior. The Rams last played the Hawks back on January 5 in their second A-10 conference game this season, coming back from a double-digit deficit to pull out a hard-fought 85-82 road win. Another win for VCU today would punch the black and gold’s sixth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and add a nice new piece of hardware to the Rams trophy case back in Richmond.

VCU (24-9)
SAINT JOSEPH’S (26-7)

A QUICK LOOK AT SAINT JOSEPH’S

The Hawks finished as the No.4 seed in this year’s tournament with a 13-5 conference record. Phil Martelli’s squad was in the thick of the A-10 regular season championship race up until the very end before dropping two straight to end the regular season, a 98-90 road loss to St. Bonaventure and a surprising 78-70 regular season-ending home L to Duquesne. They’e bounced back with two tough wins over George Washington (86-80) and top-seeded Dayton (82-79) to get themselves to their second title game appearance in the last three seasons. The Hawks are big, athletic, talented and led by two of the conference’s best all-around players. 6’7 Isaiah Miles won this year’s Most Improved Player award after averaging 18.2 points and 8 rebounds per contest, making for a dangerous duo with this year’s A-10 Player of the Year, DeAndre Bembry. The Hawks are statistically one of the most efficient and balanced Atlantic 10 teams, rankings second in the conference in offensive efficiency (just one spot ahead of VCU) and third in defensive efficiency (one spot behind VCU). The Hawks have the best turnover offense in A-10 play and score it extremely well inside the arc, connecting on 53.2% of their twos while ranking fourth in the conference in free throw rate. Defensively they do a great job of avoiding fouls and defending the three-point arc but have been vulnerable on the inside defensively.

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU

The Rams have been playing some very tough defense as of late, have been very good at scoring inside the arc and as of last night got some three balls to fall again as well. After dropping a one-point overtime regular season finale at Dayton the black and gold have won their two A-10 tournament contests in convincing fashion, defeating UMass by 15 before routing Davidson by 22 in a game that wasn’t even that close. Despite being a dangerous three-point team all season long, the Rams had struggled from long range over their last few contests, but saw an improved performance against the Wildcats last night, hitting 10 of their 25 threes (40%). That type of output makes VCU a very dangerous team, having had one of the most balanced A-10 offenses all season long. The Rams are the only A-10 offense currently ranked within the top-five in both two-point and three-point shooting whereas most A-10 teams have typically been good at either one or the other (Saint Joseph’s ranks second in two-point percentage but 10th in three-point percentage). VCU should have relatively fresh legs, as fresh as one could expect from three games in three days, after playing only one player over 25 minutes (Korey Billbury) in last night’s win. Senior guard Melvin Johnson played just 20 minutes in the win, being somewhat hampered by an ankle/heel injury that earned him a new pair of shoes before the contest. He’ll be a go today and will have to play through whatever pain may come in what should be a tough A-10 Championship matchup.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Scoring Offense: VCU 77.3, SJU 77.3
Scoring Defense: VCU 66.7, SJU 69.8
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 51%, SJU 50.9%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: SJU 47.9%, VCU 48.5%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 36.1%, SJU 32.8%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: SJU 31.2%, VCU 33.8%
Rebounds per game: SJU 38.7, VCU 37.5
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 22.3%, SJU 16.3%
Turnover Percentage Offense: SJU 14.4%, VCU 16.4%

VCU WINS IF

Will Wade said it best last night: “The toughest team makes the rules.” VCU will need to out-tough Saint Joseph’s to earn their second A-10 championship, but I think it’s the three-ball that could make the difference for the Rams.

SAINT JOSEPH’S WINS IF

See above. These teams are so evenly matched that I think the moneyball could be the deciding factor. The Hawks have also done a better job of getting to the free throw stripe than VCU this season, so early foul trouble for a guy like Mo Alie-Cox could give Saint Joseph’s a huge advantage.

Kenpom: 75-73 VCU win with a 57% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 12:30PM at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY

Watch: CBS, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Listen: 107.3FM
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation

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