VCU’s next opponent was decided last night when A-10 10-seed UMass knocked off 7-seed Rhode Island in a Thursday night Atlantic 10 tournament battle. The Minutemen led Rhode Island big early, only to lose the lead late before reclaiming it for good on two Trey Davis free throws with 1:24 left to play. The VCU Rams dropped their first and only contest against the Minutemen this season, falling 69-63 in Amherst in an upset road loss thanks to UMass shooting 58% from three-point range including an 8-8 start from deep and a perfect 7-7 in the first half. The Rams battled back from an 11-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 52 with over five minutes to play but couldn’t come up with the big plays or the stops to pull off the comeback. They’ll get their chance to avenge that loss tonight in a neutral court Barclays setting that’s sure to be full of black and gold fans hungry for revenge.
VCU (22-9, 14-4)
UMass (14-17, 6-12)
A QUICK LOOK AT UMASS
UMass is led by the guard trio of Trey Davis, Jabarie Hinds and Donte Clarke. Davis and Hinds are experienced seniors who can heat up from deep and also possess the quickness to get into the lane to cause trouble. Those three were an absolute nightmare for the Rams in their previous meeting, combining for 59 of UMass’ 69 points in their win over VCU. The Minutemen rank sixth in the A-10 in defensive efficiency but just 12th in offensive efficiency. Despite their hot hand against the Rams earlier this season UMass’ A-10 three-point percentage of 30.7% ranks 13th in the conference. UMass plays a somewhat similar style of play to previous VCU teams, preferring an uptempo contest and ones that can often times result in a high number of turnovers, sometimes for their opponents, sometimes for themselves. UMass forced 15 VCU turnovers in their last contest but had 18 of their own. On the season they have been relatively good at holding on to the ball on offense (17.6% turnover percentage), but have seen that number rise within A-10 play, ranking 10th in the conference in tournament offense. The Minutemen have a slew of capable bigs headlined by 6’9 senior Antwan Space (6.4 points, 5.4 rebounds). Space has been joined recently by 6’11 335 monster, Rashaan Holloway. Holloway doesn’t have the conditioning to play long stretches but has hit double-digit minutes in his last four contests, scoring double-digits points in three of those games. Outside of their win over VCU, the Minutemen own a solid neutral court W over Clemson, but that’s about it in terms of meat to their resume.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams finished as A-10 co-champs with St. Bonaventure and Dayton thanks to a team that has been very balanced on the year. VCU finished with the conference’s 4th most efficient offense and No.2 defense, not to mention almost identical season numbers to last year’s Shaka Smart-led team. The offense was even higher prior to a bit of a late season slump, with VCU averaging just 68.8 points per game over their last four, dragging their season average down to 77.1 points per contest. A part of that dip has come with a slightly slumping Melvin Johnson. The Rams leading scorer is still filling up the stat sheet but has done so less effectively late in the season, hitting eight of his last 28 three-pointers (28.6%) over VCU’s last four games. Johnson is shooting over 40% on the season so hopefully has a hot streak awaiting him this March. The Rams have experimented with some new looks as of late, particularly with more four-guard lineups and have added playing time for sophomore point guard Johnny Williams. After back-to-back losses to GW and UMass, Williams saw his playing time increase and is averaging 23.1 since those games, up from his 14.6-minute season average. VCU has had just one “revenge” game opportunity this season. The Rams fell at home to GW but picked up a big road win three weeks later against the same team. After dropping one of their worst losses (in terms of ranking) to UMass earlier this year, the black and gold will hope revenge is one the menu once more this season.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 77.1, UMass 73.6
Scoring Defense: VCU 67, UMass 75.5
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 51.2%, 49.2%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: UMass 48.5%, VCU 48.8%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 36.7%, UMass 33.2
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: UMass 31.9%, VCU 34.6%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37.1, UMass 35.8
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 22.7%, UMass 17.3%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 16.8%, UMass 17.6%
VCU WINS IF
VCU wins this one if Melvin Johnson, JeQuan Lewis, Korey Billbury and Co. win the battle of the backcourt, taking pride on defense and making smart plays on the other side of the ball. The Rams shot selection against UMass earlier this season was questionable at best and defensively VCU’s guards were taken to school. That can’t happen tonight if the Rams won’t to advance to this year’s semifinal while keeping their NCAA tournament hopes alive in the process.
UMASS WINS IF
When the three is falling this UMass team is dangerous. Statistically speaking that’s not very often, but we all know what it looks like when you’re the team who catches them on one of those good nights. Hinds and Davis are very high-volume guys and we saw just how deadly both of them can be. Streaky, but dangerous, the Rams can’t allow UMass to get good looks in tonight’s game or it could be an early exit for the black and gold and the second upset win from UMass so far in this tournament.
Kenpom: 77-67 VCU win with an 84% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 6:30PM at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
Watch: NBC Sports Network, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation