VCU travels to Norfolk today to take on Old Dominion in what has been arguably the best basketball rivalry in the state of Virginia for decades. The rivalry has lost some of it’s luster however thanks to conference realignment that separated the old CAA foes into new Atlantic 10 and CUSA homes. ODU’s addition of football has also split the attention of Monarch fans, turning what’s been an underrated hoops program into a dangerous team, but one that happens to be the secondary sport now of what is no doubt a “football school”. VCU will hope to represent basketball schools and the A-10 conference while picking up what would be a key RPI road win with a victory over their long-time rival.
A QUICK LOOK AT ODU (5-3)
ODU head coach Jeff Jones had done a great job of rebuilding ODU after Blaine Taylor’s horrendous final season with the Monarchs that saw just five wins during ODU’s 2012-13 campaign. Jones owns one win over the Rams, coincidentally VCU’s last road game at ODU and is 1-2 against the Rams overall. The two last met just over a year ago, a nine-point VCU home win. Like VCU, ODU lost two key players from that game, graduating leading scorers Trey Freemon and Aaron Bacote. Needless to say, ODU is still adapting offensively without their two key scorers from last year and check in at 347th nationally in effective field goal percentage out of 351 teams. The Monarchs do a good job however of grabbing offensive boards and getting to the free throw stripe to help move their adjusted offensive efficiency into the top-300 at No.281. So far ODU has been able to ease the pain of their offensive woes by playing some of the best D in college basketball. ODU ranks 19th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and allow just 57.6 points per game, giving the Monarchs the nation’s sixth best scoring defense. The Monarchs play about eight deep and are led by 6’7 ECU transfer, Brandon Stith. Stitch leads ODU in both points (13.4) and rebounds (8) despite checking in at fourth in minutes thanks to a tendency to get in foul trouble. He scores, draws fouls, rebounds the heck out of the ball and blocks a ton of shots and will likely be a huge pest VCU will have to deal with today. Stith is joined in the paint by 6’7 rebounding machine Denzall Taylor and is typically on the court with ODU’s main guards, sophomore Ahmad Caver and senior Jordan Baker, the Monarch’s only two deep-ball threats this season. Jeff Jones’ squad is an undefeated 2-0 at home with wins over JMU (kenpom No.199) and Dartmouth (kenpom No.299) and have close losses to Louisville (a six-point overtime loss) and LSU (also by six) and fell at Rhode Island, 51-39. Yes, I said 39 points, a consistent problem for the Monarchs this year, checking in at 347th nationally averaging just 58.6 points per game.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU (6-3)
You know these guys, so let’s skip ahead to VCU’s three biggest issues this year: turnovers, fouls and the occasional extreme offensive cold spell. Starting with turnovers, the Rams turned it over 21 times in their overtime home loss to Georgia Tech. VCU turned it over 25 times in an exhibition loss to DII Queens University (side note: Queens is 9-0 in DII play and let’s be honest, looked better than most of the DI teams we’ve played so far and that includes teams like LSU and St. John’s). Turnovers have killed VCU this season. The Rams rank 240th nationally in turnover percentage offense, turning the ball over one out of every five trips down the court. Combine that with an offense that doesn’t rebound well and shots have to be very accurate for VCU to pick up good wins…which they haven’t always been. VCU’s been relatively accurate on the season but is coming off two straight games where the Rams’ offense has shot below 45% inside the arc. That is an important number for a team that averages 52.2% two-point shooting on the season because the Rams take the majority of their shots inside the arc. At times quite frankly it feels as if VCU is forcing inside shots and turning what are supposed to be efficient shots into inefficient ones. Teams know VCU is attacking the basket and so far several opponents have used zone defenses that have completely stifled a Rams team that doesn’t typically launch many threes. Fouls have also been a huge issue for VCU. The Rams are averaging 22 fouls per contest in losses and check in at 249th nationally in free throw attempts to field goal attempts. What I’m trying to say is VCU is putting teams at the line for easy points against what has otherwise been a pretty darn good defense.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 72, ODU 58.6
Scoring Defense: ODU 57.6, VCU 65.6
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 52.8%, ODU 39.1%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: ODU 42.6%, VCU 48.1%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 36.1%, ODU 28.6%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: ODU 29.3%, VCU 32.9%
2-Point Field Goal%: VCU 52.2%, ODU 37.7%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: ODU 41.9%, VCU 47.6%
Rebounds per game: ODU 42.8, VCU 33.3
Turnover% Offense: VCU 20.6%, ODU 20.6%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 22.9%, ODU 21.9%
VCU WINS IF
VCU wins if…drumroll…they hit shots. The Rams offense is INSANELY unpredictable, sometimes looking like a completely different team from one half to the next. VCU has scored 80+ points on four occasions but have looked very rough on offense at times, going for just 46 points against a very beatable Illinois team two games ago. I think a magic number is 20. If VCU hits 20 or more shots inside the arc, they win (they hit no more than 17 in all three of their losses and average double-digit wins when hitting 20). If ODU however does what they’ve done all year and makes a reluctant three-point shooting team hit the long-ball to win, we’re staring at three straight losses with a brutal home game coming up against a red-hot Middle Tennessee State team. Players have to make plays tonight, especially the seniors.
OLD DOMINION WINS IF
For starters, VCU has to keep ODU to their typical offensive self. Rivalries can do weird things to a game, but VCU can’t have ODU looking like anything other than their offensively challenged self at the Ted tonight. A 60+ point game likely favors ODU and a 65+ point game almost guarantees victory. ODU needs to turn this one into a rock fight, keeping VCU from getting anything going inside the arc then hope to cause foul trouble on the other end of the court, converting freebies into easy points.
Kenpom: 60-59 VCU win with a 53% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 8PM at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, VA.
Watch: ASN, Official game day headquarters are Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Listen: Fox Sports 910 AM & 98.5 FM
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation