Game Preview: VCU v Rhode Island – A-10 Championship [INSIDER]
For the seventh consecutive season VCU will play in a conference tournament championship game, this time up against a Rhode Island Rams team that defeated VCU in a hard-fought contest in Kingston, RI on Feb 25. The black and gold Rams could not overcome ice-cold three-point shooting in that effort and eventually fell despite taking a one-point lead into halftime in front of a sold out road atmosphere. VCU will look for revenge this afternoon while hoping to claim their second A-10 title of the past three seasons.
RHODE ISLAND (23-9)
A QUICK LOOK AT RHODE ISLAND
The Keaney blue Rams made easy work of their first two A-10 tourney opponents, pulling away from St. Bonaventure in an 11-point quarterfinal win before obliterating Davidson 84-60 in the semis. Rhody scorched the PPG Paints Arena nets in their contest leading up to today’s battle, hitting 12 of 20 three-point attempts to rout Davidson. Star guard EC Matthews led the Rams in scoring in both wins and is averaging 19.5 this tournament en route to the championship game. Yesterday’s three-point barrage was a bit of an aberration for URI. Dan Hurley’s squad couldn’t miss from deep in the win but like VCU have struggled to connect from deep on the season, hitting just 33.8% of their attempts on the year (227th nationally). What has been consistent for Rhody however is a suffocating defense that ranks 28th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, a defense captained by A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Hassan Martin. Martin is physical presence that rivals Mo Alie-Cox, a theme consistent throughout a Rhody roster that appears backlined with 6’7 or larger bigs. Two key stats: the Rams rank top-two nationally in both defensive blocks percentage and defensive three-point percentage and are the A-10’s No.1 defense.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The black and gold completed their second consecutive season sweep of an in-state rival in this tournament after stunning Richmond in last night’s overtime win. It appeared as though Richmond has set the noose on VCU thanks to a Nick Sherod three with just over 30 seconds to play. But VCU leading scorer JeQuan Lewis hit perhaps the shot of his career, tying the game with a rainbow three before the Rams would come up with one final regulation stop before dominating overtime in the win. VCU hit a respectable 35% from three against Richmond a night after connecting on 50% of their attempts from deep against George Mason. Like usual, VCU finished over 50% of their two-point attempts against a Richmond defense that has been suspect at defending the rim this season. JeQuan Lewis has been VCU’s most consistent scorer in this tournament followed by freshman Samir Doughty who posted a mega-efficient 17-point, 3-rebound, 3-assist, 3-steal, 0-turnover line in last night’s win. Mo Alie-Cox had one of his best games in a while as well, hitting double-digit scoring for the first time in three games while Justin Tillman notched a Tillman typical double-double. It hasn’t been easy but in two games in Pittsburgh VCU has found ways to win, something they have done all season long en route to earning the No.2 seed in this year’s tournament.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 75, URI 73.5
Scoring Defense: URI 64.9, 66.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 51.7%, URI 50.6%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: URI 45.2%, VCU 47%
3-Point Field Goal%: URI 33.8%, VCU 33.6%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: URI 29%, VCU 33.6%
2-Point Field Goal%: VCU 52.3%, URI 50.6%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 45.5%, URI 45.9%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37.5, URI 36.3
Turnover% Offense: URI 16.8%, VCU 18.2%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 21.3%, URI 19.8%
VCU WINS IF
This game has rock fight written all over it. We’re talking some old school VCU v ODU type of tractor pull type of action (so watch, it’ll probably be just the opposite…like a high-scoring shootout). On paper my gut tells me the team who can come up with enough big plays or perhaps even just win the free throw battle, could lift the trophy. The Rams were held to just 59 points the last time these two met and were outscored 31-20 at the free throw stripe in a 10-point loss. You do the math on how key that was in URI’s win. Force Rhody to take contested shots without fouling and another black and gold team may have a championship in Pittsburgh.
RHODY WINS IF
Same as VCU, basically. Get a few big shots to fall, win the free throw battle and come up with stops like you usually do on defense. In a game of this magnitude with two equally matched teams, today’s contest could come down to which team’s stars come up with enough big plays to win. If EC Matthews, Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson can out-big play VCU, they win.
Kenpom: 67-68 VCU loss with an 49% chance of a VCU Rams victory.
Game tips at 1PM at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA
Watch: CBS, 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