Game Preview: VCU v Richmond [INSIDER]

Justin Tillman is averaging 17 points and 9 rebounds in VCU’s last two games. He scored 15 points in 14 minutes in a win over Richmond last season.

Regardless of record, VCU v Richmond is always a huge game for residents of the river city. Tonight’s matchup has an increased importance however, as VCU looks to knock Richmond out of the A-10’s top spot while claiming a share of first place themselves. Both teams have answered two-game losing streaks with two-game win streaks, each with a huge home win over top-ranked A-10 teams — VCU over Dayton, Richmond over Rhode Island. The Rams have won their last three contests against the Spiders and will hope to extend two win streaks tonight when Chris Mooney and Co. come to the Siegel Center.

VCU (16-5, 6-2)
RICHMOND (13-8, 7-2)

A QUICK LOOK AT RICHMOND

Prior to A-10 play, Spider fans were ready for head coach Chris Mooney to walk the plank, having opened the season with a 6-6 record that ended with a 15-point loss at sub-200 squad, Oral Roberts. It was the mediocre showing Spider fans have become accustomed to since Richmond’s 2011 Sweet 16 run that flashed so much promise for the young head coach from Princeton. But since that start Richmond has hit another gear, running out to UofR’s best start since that 2011 squad that opened the year at 9-2. So what has changed from the non-conference to now? Well for starters, UofR has faced a more favorable schedule in-conference. The Spiders went 0-4 against top-100 teams in the non-conference, but dropped all four by single digits, one in an overtime loss to kenpom 39th-ranked Maryland. It was one of three top-50 losses for Richmond. In other words, Richmond’s record did not reflect how they competed with very good teams. Since then Richmond has gone 3-1 against A-10 top-100 teams. They are 1-1 against top-50 A-10 teams, having won a home game against Rhode Island and dropping a road contest at Dayton. The Spiders have been an improved shooting team since conference play began, hitting over 40% of their A-10 threes early in conference play before settling into their current 35.2% in-conference rate, up from a sub-30% number early in the season. On the year they are still a fairly poor three-point shooting team, ranking 266th nationally at 32.6% on the season. When they fall however, they are deadly. Richmond makes up for that inconsistent distance shooting with a Princeton offense that will cut defenses to death for 40 minutes of play, allowing this undersized squad to check in at 20th nationally in two-point percentage at 54.7%. Defensively the Spiders have been improved from last year’s squad despite losing a ton of size and several senior contributors. In their place have come solid freshmen performances from local products Nick Sherod (grandson of VCU grad, Edmund Sherod) and former VCU target, De’Monte Buckingham. Buckingham has earned two rookie of the week awards after a huge start to conference play and often is the Spiders’ power forward despite standing at just 6’4. Richmond’s heart and sole however is still the duo of TJ Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones. Cline leads the team in basically every statistical category at 19 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 5.4 assists, all team-highs. He is a threat to score from any spot on the floor and is an elite passer. Jones has been the team’s most reliable deep threat and is capable of dropping 20 on anyone. The duo will see the majority of possessions and shots night-in and night-out, combing for over 54% of Richmond’s shots while on the floor. Richmond’s biggest weakness? Rebounding. UofR is one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country and and don’t fair much better on D, checking in at last in the A-10 in offensive rebound rate and 12th on D.

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU

VCU picked up a huge win this past Friday over Dayton and will look for another tonight when hosting the Spiders. The Rams grabbed that W beating up on the Flyers on the glass, out-rebounding Dayton by 17 and scoring 46 points in the paint, 26 off second-chance buckets. The Rams turned the ball over just 12 times in the win, avoiding the high-turnover night that this year’s VCU team has come accustomed to. VCU’s ability to limit turnovers has been a win or lose signal at times this season, it’s been the difference between at 22-turnover night in a loss at Fordham and the 12-turnover win over a top-50 Dayton squad. One very promising sign for VCU as well has been the hot play of bigs Justin Tillman and Ahmed Hamdy. With Mo Alie-Cox held to single digits in his last three contests, Hamdy and Tillman have been bruisers in the paint, the duo chipping in a combined average of 29.5 points and 18.5 rebounds these past two games. And that is what makes this VCU team so dangerous. At times VCU has been able to build solid leads without the likes of JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox on the floor. The Rams depth is what separates this VCU team from most of the Atlantic 10 and what makes their ceiling perhaps higher than most in the league. VCU currently ranks in the top-two in A-10 play in both offensive and defensive efficiency but has also played the A-10’s 12th weakest conference schedule. The Rams however are a perfect 2-0 against top-half A-10 teams in home games and will hope to become the pace car in this year’s race with another top-half win tonight against Richmond.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Scoring Offense: VCU 75.4, UofR 74.1
Scoring Defense: VCU 65.5, UofR 71.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 53%, UofR 52.4%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 47.3%, UofR 47.5%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 35%, UofR 36%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: UofR 31.1%, VCU 33.2%
2-Point Field Goal%: UofR 54.7%, VCU 53.3%

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 46.2%, UofR 47.9%
Rebounds per game: VCU 36, UofR 33.3
Turnover% Offense: UofR 17.6%, VCU 19.6%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 22.8%, UofR 22%

VCU WINS IF

One major challenge for both teams will be in defending inside the arc. Neither has been a dependable three-point shooting team but with VCU getting 56.7% of their points from two-point baskets — the Rams rank 24th in the nation in that stat — the black and gold almost don’t have to be, meaning Richmond’s ability to defend their basket will be of particular interest Wednesday night. The Rams are one of the most basket-attacking teams in the country, getting 46.1% of their shots this season at the rim. This is a big deal. Richmond has played five teams who rank in the top-100 in 2-point percentage offense this season. They lost to four of those teams with their one win coming against No.100 Davidson, a team who’s good at finishing inside the arc but rarely does so, getting just 41.4% of their points inside the arc (ranking 342nd nationally out of 351 teams in that stat). VCU hit over 50% of their twos in both wins over Richmond last season, going a combined 51-98 in the two games. This year’s Rams are shooting more twos AND finishing them at a higher rate. Can Richmond stop that? I’m not so sure. If VCU can keep the defense at a level it has been while doing what the numbers suggest they should do on offense, they win this game.

RICHMOND WINS IF

Richmond needs a team defensive effort to stop the Rams inside. Again, against teams built like VCU with a similar offensive approach, they just haven’t been the best at doing that. What complicates the matter is senior big TJ Cline is so valuable to the team offensively that he simply can not afford any bit of foul trouble. With the Spiders’ lack of depth that means you are essentially trading defense for offense, hoping Richmond can win these types of games in shootouts. When the threes are falling, this Richmond team is as dangerous of an offense as you’ll see. But big picture tells us that more often than not, that just hasn’t been the case. Richmond’s night will likely be decided with how well they defend as a team. Their defensive effort in a recent home romp of Rhode Island shows just how tricky this Spiders team can be. Another night like that — and not like the 90 points they gave up to Duquesne — would go a long way toward keeping Richmond in the No.1 spot in the Atlantic 10.

Kenpom: 78-68 VCU win with an 83% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 7PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA

Watch: CBS Sports Network, Official game day headquarters are Baja Bean Co. in the Fan and 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

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