After letting a road opportunity get away from them this past Saturday, your VCU Rams will attempt a bounce-back W at Dayton in a game that comes with a very high degree of difficulty. The Rams defeated Dayton 73-68 back in January, UD’s last loss, the Flyers having reeled off eight straight wins to extend their home winning streak to 13 games since then. Tonight’s battle will be arguably VCU’s toughest true road challenge of the season and one with the highest of stakes. A win tonight would effectively lock up an NCAA tournament bid for VCU while also moving VCU into a tie with Archie Miller’s squad for first place in the A-10 and with just one game following, could grab VCU the No.1 seed in next week’s Atlantic 10 tournament in Pittsburgh.
VCU (23-6, 13-3)
DAYTON (23-5, 14-2)
A QUICK LOOK AT DAYTON
Simply put, on paper there has been no better A-10 team this season than the Dayton Flyers. UD has the highest RPI and kenpom ratings in the conference and in A-10 play ranks No.1 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (VCU ranks second in both). The Flyers rank top-50 nationally in both offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage and as a well-coached, experienced team (32nd most experienced team in the country), have all the pieces a team would need to make a deep NCAA tournament run. Four Flyers are shooting over 40% from three with three more hitting over 35% for a team average of over 38.4%, which is 1.4% better than VCU’s 2011 Final 4 team that set an NCAA record for made threes in a tournament. What’s more is the Flyers have added even more talent since they last narrowly lost to VCU on the road, returning 6’7 Bradley transfer Josh Cunningham from injury, a player who has yet to lose a game in a Flyers uniform while active. Long story short, this is as balanced and consistent of a team as VCU has played all season long. The good news is it’s also a team VCU has proven they can beat, but one that will no doubt be a much tougher out in front of 13,000+ Dayton fans tonight.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The offensively challenged version of this Rams squad made a return appearance against Rhode Island this past weekend and because of that we saw an L to a team who hit just 35.4% of their attempts against VCU. Some of those struggles are understandable against a Rhody team that ranks 35th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, but when combined with a disappointing offensive performance against a terrible Saint Louis team the previous game, gives some real reason for concern. Over the past two games, VCU has combined to hit just four of their 32 three-point attempts for a concerning 12.5% week from distance. And that highlights this VCU’s team’s biggest weakness. Teams who have been able to clog the paint on this VCU group have been able to have success due to a backcourt that has yet to prove themselves capable of consistently punishing opponents from deep. You could say that it also highlights how dangerous this VCU team can ultimately be, starting the season 23-6 despite hitting just 34.2% of their threes (211th nationally), but 29 games deep it’s hard to put your chips on VCU having any big night from three, especially against tough three-point defending teams like Dayton. To this team’s credit, they have clearly identified this is not the best of three-point shooting teams and thus, pound the ball in the paint. But again, if you can slow down Mo, Justin and Ahmed inside the arc, you can have success against this VCU team.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: UD 76.5, VCU 75
Scoring Defense: UD 65.4, VCU 65.9
Effective Field Goal% Offense: UD 54.1%, VCU 52%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 46.8%, UD 47.2%
3-Point Field Goal%: UD 38.4%, VCU 34.2%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: UD 31.9%, VCU 33.6%
2-Point Field Goal%: VCU 52.3%, UD 51.8%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 45.1%, UD 46.7%
Rebounds per game: VCU 36.1, UD 34.6
Turnover% Offense: UD 17.2%, VCU 18.8%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 21.5%, UD 21.3%
VCU WINS IF
Like VCU’s last win against Dayton, the Rams have to force this one into a battle of the paint, a battle on paper they should win. VCU out-rebounded Dayton by 17 earlier this year and finished 24 of their 43 attempts inside the arc (55.8%) in the win. Justin Tillman finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, Ahmed Hamdy added 12 and eight and Mo Alie-Cox finished with eight and five. The Rams were (surprise) terrible from distance in that one, going just 2-15 from three point range…but it didn’t matter. VCU held UD to just five three-point makes themselves and forced Dayton into playing VCU’s game, a winning formula for the Rams in that one and what could be a winning formula in this one as well. If VCU allows Dayton to get going from distance however, forget about it, we’ll be simply competing for a second place finish when we wake up Thursday morning. The Flyers have hit over 44% of their threes in their last five contests, all wins. The last time UD was held to under 35% from distance in a game came all the way back on Jan 27, a loss to your very own VCU Rams.
DAYTON WINS IF
Again, a three-point contest on paper highly favors UD tonight (VCU ranks 12th in the A-10 in three-point shooting through their 16 conference games), meaning if the Flyers can successfully clog the paint it could be a frustrating night for a Rams teams who’ll be without 44% three-point shooter De’Riante Jenkins for the 16th consecutive game since breaking his foot. Continuing their hot three-point shooting should be a challenge against what’s been a strong defensive team in VCU. As a law of averages guy I also think UD is due for a tougher night from distance after those five consecutive 40%-plus three-point performances. How long can their hot hand last? Let’s hope “just five games” is the answer. But hitting those deep ball or not, UD’s key to victory will start with defending the paint.
Kenpom: 73-68 Dayton win with a 69% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 8PM at UD Arena in Dayton, OH
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