Game Preview: VCU v Michigan [INSIDER]

VCU moved to 3-2 on the season after cruising to victory in last night’s Maui Invitational win over Cal. The competition stiffens today when the Rams will take on top-50 Michigan for a chance to leave the island with not only a winning record, but with a quality win as well.

VCU (3-2)


The Wolverines suffered a surprising first round Maui Invitational loss to the Will Wade-coached LSU Tigers and now find themselves trying to make the best of their bracket opportunity. After the loss to the Tigers and a meaningless blowout win over DII host school Chaminade, that puts a victory over VCU as the only potentially positive on-court outcome from this year’s trip. Head Coach John Beilein will be no stranger to VCU’s style, having dispensed the then-Shaka Smart coached team and VCU’s havoc defense in 2013 en route to Michigan’s trip to the national title game. The Wolverines bring a relatively experienced group into today’s matchup but is led by leading scorer, sophomore Charles Matthews (17.8 ppg). Matthews is joined by the experienced trio of junior Moritz Wagner (6’11 245 averaging 14.8 ppg and 8.2 rebs) and seniors Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (13 ppg) and Duncan Robinson (12 ppg). Despite their 4-1 record, Michigan has somewhat struggled early, needing late huge runs to escape all of North Florida, Central Michigan and Southern Miss, then losing their only top-100 contest to Wade’s Tigers. A large chunk of those struggles seems to fall on a three-point defense that has been questionable at best this year, as the Wolverines have allowed their opponents to connect on a ridiculous 46.4% of the three-point attempts this season, ranking 339th nationally in the stat. Either way, it’s a welcome sign for a VCU team that loves to fire away from deep. That three-point number seems to be the only real knock on the Wolverines defense, as Michigan has defended the paint fairly well, rebounds and turns teams over at an impressive 24.3% clip. The Wolverines are a large group and have used their size advantage early to finish 58% of their two-point attempts. They haven’t shot the ball well from deep so far but can be a very dangerous group if the three-ball ever decides to fall for the Big 10 squad.


Everything clicked for VCU early in Tuesday’s victory over Cal, as the Rams were able to build a 23-point halftime lead that proved too much for their Pac-12 opponent to overcome. Offensively, VCU was as impressive as we’ve come to expect from our early season sample, but the Rams added an improved defensive effort as well, holding Cal to just four made threes for a 26.7% defense three-point effort, VCU’s best defense of the three since the home opener against outmatched Grambling St. Cal’s pressure did give VCU some trouble late, as the Rams turned the ball over 18 times in the win including nine total turnovers from point guards Johnny Williams and Tyler Maye, but overall on the season turnovers statistically have not been much of an issue. The Rams were without Issac Vann for the entirety of the game, as Vann suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half of VCU’s Maui opener. He’s expected to miss today’s matchup as well, but Sean Mobley did an admirable job soaking up a large chunk of Vann’s vacated minutes, tying his career-best of nine points in a career-high 19 minutes of action. Mobley connected on three of five three-point attempts and hit his first three of the game. He’s shooting 46.7% deep this season, a frightening stat for opponents considering Mobley’s 6’8 240-pound frame. De’Riante Jenkins however was the man of the night, looking very much like the future pro VCU fans expect him to be after a 27-point, 11-rebound double-double evening. Both Jenkins and Tillman notched 30-plus minutes in a game the Rams played virtually the entire team double-digit minutes outside of walk-on Dylan Sheehy-Guiseppi.


Scoring Offense: VCU 84.4, UM 79.2
Scoring Defense: UM 63.8, VCU 77.8
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 54.9%, UM 53.2%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 52.2%, UM 54.6%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 39.2%, UM 31.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 36.2%, UM 46.4%
2-Point Field Goal%: UM 58%, VCU 52.5%

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: UM 46.5%, VCU 50.8%
Rebounds per game: VCU 39.8, UM 31.4
Turnover% Offense: UM 13.7%, VCU 17.5%
Turnover% Defense: UM 24.3%, VCU 18.4%


It’s gotta be halfcourt over havoc today for VCU to upset the Wolverines. Michigan simply does not turn the ball over on offense (ranking top-20 nationally in turnover percentage offense the last five seasons, six if you include this one) and to make matters worse, they’ve been very good at turning teams over on the defensive end. If you think VCU is going to press into points, odds are you are very much mistaken. That means VCU has to be sound defensively in the halfcourt. If the Rams can make Michigan hit tough shots and not give up the easy stuff inside, then do what VCU has done on offense, they can fly home happy and we’ll all wake up on Thanksgiving thankful for a nice 2-1 Maui record.


This is very much a UVA situation where Michigan, like the Wahoos, will look to frustrate the Rams by dictating the pace of today’s game. The Wolverines currently play the fifth slowest tempo in college hoops and will take on their third top-60 tempo opponent in VCU. Michigan pulled away late from the first two (UNF and Central Michigan), but will hope to avoid a late-game comeback tonight. If Michigan can D the three, drag this one into the mud and own the paint, today’s favorite likely leave victorious.

Kenpom: 76-71 Michigan win with a 32% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 5PM 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


A two-time graduate of VCU (School of the Arts '07, Center for Sport Leadership '10), Mat is a co-founder of VCU Ram Nation and a longtime fan as the ...