Game Preview: VCU v North Florida [INSIDER]

VCU will look to start the season 2-0 today when hosting a familiar opponent, welcoming back head coach Matthew Driscoll and his North Florida Ospreys to the Siegel Center for the first time since 2015. The Rams downed the Atlantic Sun team 80-68 that day and are catching a much younger version this evening that will be playing their third game in four days, having lost their opening two contests to Michigan State and Michigan.

VCU (1-0)


The Ospreys finished the season a solid 22-12 two seasons ago when these two tipped it up, but going from the 11th most experienced team in the country to the 110th had some predictable side effects, seeing the Ospreys fall below .500 this past season and are looking to rebuild with an even less experienced unit this year. The nation’s 277th least experienced team has opened their season with a gauntlet of a schedule, falling at Michigan State by 32, then dropping a 20-point L at Michigan the very next day. After a day of rest the sophomore-led group will tip it up in the Siegel Center before heading to Florida for a game on Thursday. Brutal schedule. This year’s group goes basically six deep, depending on five sophomores and one senior to do their heavy lifting. Two of those sophomores, Ivan Gardia-Rosa (6’1 guard) and Garrett Sams (6’6 forward), are pacing the group with with 15 points per game each. So far UNF has been fighting outside of their weight class and have the results to prove it. Ranked 295th currently by kenpom, the Ospreys have struggled to defend and can’t seem to find the bucket inside the arc but have hit 45.5% of their threes to start the season. That three-point threat will have VCU on red alert against this winless team, as the Rams were already cooked once this year in an exhibition loss to a red-hot group of Liberty Flames shooters. North Florida is a very undersized team, with just one player checking in above 200 pounds, that person being 6’7 205 freshman, Trip Day, who averages just 13 minutes per contest.


The black and gold made easy work of Grambling State this past Friday and for the second consecutive contest flashed an offense that is very capable of hanging a ton of points of the board. VCU’s 94 points followed a 98-point performance in an exhibition win over VUU, with the Rams shooting 44% from three against Grambling, their second 40% plus shooting performance in the three games they’ve played this year that have been open to the public. VCU flashed a little defense as well, limiting Grambling to a 39.7% effective field goal percentage, but it’s hard to know how much of that was the Rams and how much was the Tigers’ horrendous shot selection. Either way, the Rams looked convincing in victory and played 10 players double-digit minutes with only one player, Johnny Williams, playing over 25 minutes in the win. Justin Tillman saw just 17 minutes himself but reminded Ram Nation just how good he can be, posting a quick 14-point, 10-rebound double-double. Bigs Khris Lane and Sean Mobley were just as efficient as the all-conference Tillman, while starters Williams, Malik Crowfield and De’Riante Jenkins all kicked their seasons off with double-digit scoring nights. This VCU team is long and versatile and should be a ton of fun to watch this season under a Coach Rhoades style of play that is full of green lights for shooters and freedom to make decisions for whoever’s in the game. VCU’s biggest question will be in how quickly the Rams’ defense can gel against a schedule that heats up with a tough matchup against UVA this Friday.


Scoring Offense: VCU 94, UNF 66
Scoring Defense: VCU 65, UNF 92
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 55.2%, UNF 47.4%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 39.7%, UNF 56.1%
3-Point Field Goal%: UNF 45.5%, VCU 44.1%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 15.4%, UNF 32.4%
2-Point Field Goal%: VCU 46.3%, UNF 34.7%

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 44.4%, UNF 58.9%
Rebounds per game: VCU 49, UNF 30
Turnover% Offense: VCU 14.3%, UNF 27.4%
Turnover% Defense: UNF 19.7%, VCU 15.5%


Three key things I’ll be watching are the Rams’ ability to turn UNF over, their ability to run them off the three-point line and the black and gold’s ease of scoring inside.

UNF has averaged 21.5 turnovers in their two losses this season and that is a stat that should have a havoc hungry team drooling. If VCU can’t force turnovers in the backcourt they’ll need to really guard the arc in the halfcourt. UNF has done one thing well statistically this season and that’s shoot the rock from deep. VCU showed just how vulnerable they can be against teams who can do that in that exhibition contest against Liberty, so the Rams’ defensive communicate, hustle and rotation will be big today. And lastly VCU’s ability to score inside could allow the Rams to set the tone of tonight’s contest. The Ospreys allowed Michigan State to connect on 65% of their attempts inside the arc, then gave up 52% to Michigan. Khris Lane and Justin Tillman’s ability to take advantage of their size and convert down low could take some pressure off of VCU’s shooters and go a long way toward a Rams win tonight.


See: VCU v Liberty. The Rams were torched by Liberty in an exhibition loss that saw the Flames connect on 50% of their 22 threes. The season is young, but so far UNF has three players shooting over 50% from three on the season: Garrett Sams (55.6% at 5-9), Ivan Gandia-Rosa (63.6% at 7-11) and TJ Escobar (50% at 4-8). A little quick math will tell you all three are getting off at least four threes per contest, which means you’ve got three very capable shooters who are going to combine for at least 12 three-point attempts tonight. The Rams simply cannot allow open looks from deep like we’ve seen time-to-time from this new group. UNF will obviously need an improved defensive performance to pull out a win at the Stu as well. 92 points allowed like their season average, albeit against two very worthy opponents, simply won’t do. VCU can get hot at any moment, turning a close game into a 20-point lead in the blink of an eye, so UNF will need to be much improved defensively tonight to pull off the upset.

Kenpom: 88-70 VCU win with a 94% chance of a Rams victory.

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

Watch: MASN, 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 ...