The UMass Minutemen travel to Richmond today to take on the Rams and it appears as if they’ve brought their New England weather with them. The game has already sold out but the question will be: how many Rams make it out to fill those seats with the snow continuing to fall in Richmond? That question could play a huge role in today’s outcome as the Minutemen look to pick up their first Atlantic 10 win while VCU will need every bit of crowd advantage they can in an attempt to move to a perfect 3-0 to start off conference play.
VCU (12-3, 2-0)
UMass (10-5, 0-2)
A QUICK LOOK AT UMASS
UMass head coach Derek Kellogg brings a young but talented Minutemen team into A-10 conference play but has yet to replicate his team’s non-conference success. After a 10-3 OOC finish UMass has dropped their first two Atlantic 10 games, first falling at home to St. Bonaventure, then dropping a tight road contest at George Mason. The Minutemen had been a tough defensive team (on paper) to begin the year but have given up 87.5 points per game in their first two Atlantic 10 contests. In some ways the Minutemen are quite similar to VCU. UMass forces a high number of turnovers per contest on defense but has struggled in that category offensively. Like VCU they have also been prone to a high number of fouls and on offense get the majority of their production inside the arc. The main difference between these two teams however comes in the experience department. UMass has a slew of young talent headlined by top-60 freshman Dejon Jarreau, an explosive slashing guard, Luwane Pipkins, UMass’ version of Briante Weber and Rashaan Holloway, a 6’11 310 monster in the paint who went for 16 and 8 in UMass’ last contest against VCU (an A-10 tourney win for the Rams). But like most talented young players, that group falls victim to inconsistency. Where UMass finds its consistency is in leading scorer Donte Clarke, a talented and versatile junior guard/forward. Clarke is having his best year inside the arc, but like his team in general, has not torn it up from downtown. Clarke is arguably UMass’ biggest three-point threat but is hitting just 33.3% of his threes this season. The Minutemen have been competitive all season long but remain 0-4 against kenpom top-100 teams. Today’s matchup against VCU will be the highest ranked team UMass’ will have played all season long.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams have reeled off six straight wins including back-to-back A-10 road wins to begin conference play. They have done so by wreaking havoc defensively for a No.21 national ranking in defensive turnover percentage and by attacking the basket relentlessly on offense. The Rams have attempted an average of 49 two-point shots in their two Atlantic 10 games and are getting 56.2% of their scoring from made twos on the season, making VCU the 36th most paint attacking team in the country. Redshirt freshman Samir Doughty hit seven of those in the Rams last win for a 21-point breakout performance at Duquesne. Doughty’s ability to hit shots consistently could be a barometer of the Rams’ success going forward. For starters, the freshman takes shots, lots of them, ranking second on the team in percentage of shots taken at 23.1%, just behind senior guard JeQuan Lewis at 25.4%. But what’s more is Doughty’s role has become increasingly important with the recent loss of De’Riante Jenkins to a broken foot. Jenkins was giving the Rams an incredibly efficient scorer off the bench, hitting a team-best 44.4% of his threes for a VCU-leading true shooting percentage of 65.2%. Doughty looks like the biggest beneficiary of Jenkins’ vacated minutes, playing a career-high 34 minutes in the Rams’ first game without the top-50 freshman. And let’s talk about this turnover real quick. VCU’s difference between good and great this year will come down to the Rams’ ability to not turn the ball over. The black and gold turned the ball over 16 times against a Duquesne defense that ranks 230th nationally in turnover D. They turned it over 21 times against a George Mason D that ranks 307th nationally in the stat. Combine that with a defense that fouls frequently and you’ve got a VCU team shooting itself in the foot frequently, a team limiting itself from really becoming great. It’s the only version of the Rams that ranks sub-200 in both turnover percentage offense and fouling defense since kenpom has been tracking both stats. Improve just a bit in both categories and VCU has the ability to become elite.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 75, UMASS 74.7
Scoring Defense: VCU 66.5, UMASS 79.7
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 53.8%, UMASS 50.8%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: UMASS 44.2%, VCU 48.3%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 35.3%, UMASS 30.2%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: UMASS 31.4%, VCU 37%
2-Point Field Goal%: UMASS 55.1%, VCU 54.2%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: UMASS 42.8%, VCU 45.6%
Rebounds per game: UMASS 36.9, VCU 34.5
Turnover% Offense: UMASS 20.2%, VCU 20.2%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 22.9%, UMASS 21.4%
VCU WINS IF
Statistically these two teams appear extremely similar on paper and almost mirror images of each other. I do however think the numbers are a bit skewed by the level of competition these two teams have faced, VCU having played the nation’s 115th toughest schedule (according to kenpom), UMass taking on the 251st-ranked schedule. So give VCU a bit of an edge when comparing close numbers here. The other difference is this: VCU has done a better job of doing what they do best. Both UMass and VCU have seen success scoring inside the arc but VCU attacks that more whereas UMass’ young squad settles for more threes. I think if VCU can win the battle inside the arc today they have a very good shot at moving to 3-0 in A-10 play while keeping the Minutemen winless in conference. Both teams suffer from the same afflictions (turnovers on offense, fouls on D), so if the Rams play their game and execute, they win.
UMASS WINS IF
UMass ranks 26th nationally in two-point defense, limiting teams to 42.8% shooting inside the arc. Their ability to replicate that against the best and most relentless two-point team they will have faced will go a long way in determining their success today. The Minutemen have played just two top-100 efficiency offense this season. The first saw them surrender 90 points at Mississippi. The second came in a recent double-digit home loss to St. Bonaventure, allowing 89 points in defeat. Neither of those teams also has a top-100 defense, making VCU the most balanced team UMass will have faced all season long. Can they make enough plays on both sides of the ball to escape Richmond with a win? We’ll find out in a few hours but the signs are certainly there to suggest VCU is a solid favorite in this one.
Kenpom: 80-70 VCU win with an 83% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 1PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA.
Watch: NBC Sports Network, Official game day headquarters are Baja Bean Co. in the Fan as well as 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