UVA returns to the capital city on Friday to attempt to shut down VCU’s high-scoring offense with what has been one of the nation’s best defenses since Tony Bennett took over in Charlottesville. Winner moves to 3-0 on the season and 2-1 in this series since it was reborn in 2013. Treveon Graham helped VCU win the first of those battles thanks to a game-winning dramatic three in Charlottesville. UVA then answered by controlling VCU with relative ease when the two met the following year at the Siegel Center. Will this be the first game in the recent series where the home team comes out victorious?
A QUICK LOOK AT UVA
Ram fans likely won’t recognize many of the faces of this year’s Wahoos, but will recognize the one on the sidelines, which means once again Tony Bennett’s pack line defense will take on the black and gold in another attempt to hold the Rams under 60 points. UVA limited VCU to 59 points in the Rams 2013 win, then outscored the black and gold 74-57 the following season at the Siegel Center. The Cavaliers have yet to even allow that many points this season, holding their first two opponents to under 50 in easy victories over UNC Greensboro and Austin Peay thanks to what has been the slowest temple in college hoops through UVA’s first two games. It’s a tempo that Bennett loves, as teams he’s coached since his start as a DI head coach in 2007 have ranked in the bottom-30 of tempo every season of his career including the slowest tempo (out of 351 teams) last season and as one of the 10 slowest since the 2013-14 season. That runs just the opposite of what Mike Rhoades is trying to do this year at VCU, checking in as one of the nation’s 50 fastest teams in his first season on Broad Street after ranking 17th nationally last year at Rice. The Cavs have so far been led by senior Devon Hall, a Virginia Beach native who’s averaged 16 points through two games and a player who grew up attending Mike Rhoades basketball camps at Randolph Macon as a child. The 6’5 guard does a bit of everything and is a threat to score from anywhere on the court. Hall is joined by 7’1 freshman Jay Huff as the team’s leading scorers, Huff playing just one game this season but dumping 16 points in for UVA in 24 minutes of action and going a perfect 2-2 from three-point land. Kyle Guy returns for UVA as the team’s most dangerous three-point threat, off to a 3-6 start on the season from distance after hitting 49.5% of his 103 threes this past season. As a team UVA has hit a solid 36.4% of their threes this season but were held to 25% from deep in their home opener. UVA has nice size with Huff and 6’10 250-pound junior Jack Salt, which, combined with a relatively long backcourt, will attempt to make it extremely difficult for the Rams to get anything going inside the arc when the two meet up tomorrow night. In short, think of UVA as basically a longer, much better version of Liberty. That’s essentially what VCU is up against Friday.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
Fans of offense and fast-paced hoops have gotta love what’s come to Broad St. this season. Including VCU’s exhibition win over Virginia Union, the black and gold have scored 90 or more points their past three games thanks to an offense that’s about all freedom for shooters and a pace that wants to run opponents into the ground. VCU’s 94.5 points per game over their first two official contests ranks 28th nationally, with a 21.5 assists per contest that checks in at No.21 in the country. That was of course against two sub-280 kenpom teams and will receive the ultimate challenge in the nation’s current No.1 defense. Not surprisingly, VCU has been led by senior star Justin Tillman who’s currently averaging the same amount of points per game as minutes: 20.5. The Rams have been able to rest the highly efficient big man through their first two contests thanks to a balanced scoring attack that includes five double-digit scorers and two more that are averaging at least 7.5 points per game. That list includes newcomers Khris Lane (grad transfer via Longwood) at 14 points per night and Issac Vann, VCU’s high-scoring freshman who’s chipped in 12 points per contest to start the season. Lane has given VCU a new dimension in the paint, bringing in a big man who can step out and hit the three and next to starting forward Justin Tillman makes up a duo that has combined to hit four out of their first seven threes this season. Both are shooting over 50% from deep on a team that can currently boast five such players, and none of which currently lead the team in total makes, those honors belonging to sophomores Malik Crowfield (4-9, 44%) and De’Riante Jenkins (4-12, 33%). VCU has flight out been stroking the ball from deep, but have needed every bit of that thanks to a defense that has at times struggled to stop the three on the other end. VCU gave up 17 three-point makes to UNF in the Rams’ most recent win and saw Liberty hit 11-22 in the black and gold’s surprising exhibition loss. They’ll need to be much better Friday defensively against a UVA team that has the ability to torch them from deep.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 94.5, UVA 76.5
Scoring Defense: UVA 48.5, VCU 75
Effective Field Goal% Offense: UVA 60.6%, VCU 55.1%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: UVA 38.4%, VCU 47%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 40%, UVA 36.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: UVA 18.4%, VCU 35.8%
2-Point Field Goal%: UVA 63.9%, VCU 52.6%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 42.7%, UVA 45.6%
Rebounds per game: VCU 45.5, UVA 31
Turnover% Offense: VCU 13%, UVA 17.6%
Turnover% Defense: UVA 29.6%, UVA 18.3%
VCU WINS IF
It’ll be 55 and sunny outside of the Stu Friday, but we likely need it 60+ and raining inside to pull off the big win. UVA went 5-10 when allowing 60 or more points last season. Seven of those teams shot 36.8% or better from distance in their wins, four shot over 40% from three. About one of every third attempt for VCU has come from beyond the arc this season. VCU’s ability to get em up from long range and connect, combined with what must be a huge step forward on defense, are absolutely necessary to pull this off. If not, we are looking at a Liberty repeat but with a potentially even worse final margin.
UVA WINS IF
There have been 12 Tony Bennett-coached teams dating back to the 2006-2007 season. Nine of them have ranked in the top-25 in adjusted defensive efficiency, eight were top-10 and five of those were top-five. Good defense is just a given with these guys. Allow them to score 65 or more points and you’ve likely lost. Allow them 85 like VCU allowed Liberty and not only do you lose to the Cavs, but you likely just got embarrassed by 30 or more. If UVA’s shooters get the open opportunities those of North Florida and Liberty saw, it’s a comfy hour drive back to Charlottesville.
Kenpom: 71-63 UVA win with a 25% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 4PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA
Watch: CBS Sports Network, 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