Got a case of the Mondays? Wait a couple of hours, as the black and gold will tip it up with the Big East’s Marquette Golden Eagles in a rare 2:30PM Monday tip from Maui, Hawaii as a part of this year’s Maui Invitational. The Rams are coming off a close home loss at the hands of UVA while Marquette looks to bounce back from a second half home collapse versus Purdue. Both teams are looking to make it back to the NCAA tournament after appearing in the dance last season, but to do so will need to pick up some quality early non-conference wins like the one in front of them in Maui today.
A QUICK LOOK AT MARQUETTE
Picked to finish seventh this preseason in a stacked Big East conference, the Golden Eagles look to find themselves after losing some key pieces from last season’s team that finished the year as the best three-point shooting group in the country. Three talented seniors have moved on as well as junior transfer Duane Wilson, leaving one of the nation’s youngest teams with some question marks after their first NCAA tournament season under fourth-year head coach Steve Wojciechowski. Back however is Markus Howard, a sophomore who led the nation in three-point shooting last season with a ridiculous 54.7% three-point percentage on 150 attempts. That effort as a freshman was good for third in NCAA history. Through two games Howard is shooting “just” 46.2% from three and will provided a major challenge for a VCU defense that has struggled to defend the three this season. Howard is one of three players shooting above 40% from distance, joined by junior Haanif Cheatham (40%, 9 ppg) and the team’s leading scorer, senior point guard Andrew Rowsey (24 ppg, 5.5 apg, 41.2% from three). While last season’s Golden Eagles checked in as the nation’s eighth most efficient offense, they often times struggled to defend, ranked 165th in defensive efficiency thanks to a D that allowed opponents a too-high 52.2% effective field goal percentage. Where that number will go this season remains to be seen after just two games. Marquette shut down Mount St. Mary’s as you’d expect, but gave up 86 points to Purdue in a night the Boilermakers connected on a ridiculous 63.6% of their two-point attempts including a 54-point second half performance. The Golden Eagles played four players 30 or more minutes in that contest and will likely roll with a similar rotation today, going with an explosive but small backcourt that consists of two players that check in below 6′ tall. Those players are the 5’11 duo of Howard and Rowsey, the two players that Marquette will likely lean upon once again today.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
Similar to recent Marquette teams, VCU under new head coach Mike Rhoades has been a high-scoring offensive group that has at times struggled to defend. The Rams have scored 90 or more points in three of their last four games dating back to the exhibition opener against Virginia Union and scored an impressive 67 points against UVA — impressive because the Wahoos allowed 67 or more points just three times all of last season. But the Rams have needed every bit of that offense, giving up 80.5 points per game their last two contests thanks to a defense that has facilitated in teams shooting 38.2% from three this season. VCU’s press is back but the impact from it seems to have a long way to go. The Rams’ 15.2% defensive turnover percentage ranks 300th nationally out of 351 teams and is the lowest rate by a VCU team since kenpom started keeping the stat in 2002. It’s only the second time a VCU team has checked in at under 20% since 2002, joining the ’02 Rams (19.1%) in that category. Offensively however, the Rams have impressed. Four current players are averaging double-digit scoring including newly available transfers Issac Vann (14.3 ppg) and Khris Lane (13.3). Sophmore De’Riante Jenkins is sniffing double-digits at 9.3 points per contest. The Rams ability to tighten up the defense will have a huge say in just how good this team can be and if VCU is on a collision course with their eighth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 85.3, MU 75.5
Scoring Defense: MU 72.5, VCU 75.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 54.7%, MU 53.1%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 50.8%, MU 56.5%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 38.7%, MU 35.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: MU 27.5%, VCU 38.2%
2-Point Field Goal%: MU 53%, VCU 52.7%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 46.7%, MU 65.7%
Rebounds per game: VCU 42.3, MU 29
Turnover% Offense: VCU 14.8%, MU 15.9%
Turnover% Defense: MU 19.5%, VCU 15.2%
VCU WINS IF
VCU can win this one if they don’t allow Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard Kyle Guy type of performances. That duo combines to shoot 62.2% of Marquettes attempts while on the floor, meaning you know damn well who’s getting the ball. Both have also attempted more threes than twos, so not only do we know who’s taking the shots, but we know more often and not where those shots are coming from. The Rams ability to run those guys off the line for an improved three-point defensive effort combined with an offensive night the stats suggest VCU is capable of against this team (especially against that Swiss cheese two-point defense), will go a long way toward starting Maui off on the winners side of the bracket.
MARQUETTE WINS IF
Marquette’s three-point offense against VCU’s bad-so-far three-point defense is a frightening combo for Ram fans. VCU has seen three teams shoot 40% or better in the five games the Rams have played, which includes a 50% three-point night in an exhibition loss to Liberty. The numbers suggest Marquette needs efficient offensive nights from BOTH Howard and Rowsey to win what could be a shootout in this one, as the Golden Eagles have yet to show the balanced scoring from top to bottom that VCU has. A bad day from either today could send the Golden Eagles to the losers side of the bracket from day-one. A mediocre day from both would likely spell guaranteed defeat.
Kenpom: 82-77 Marquette win with a 34% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 2:30PM EST at Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, HI
Watch: ESPN2, Official game day headquarters at 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