On April 2, 2015, the Texas Longhorns hired beloved Rams coach Shaka Smart away from VCU. He returns to the Siegel Center tonight. Emotions will be high all around, but what matters most is the Rams have a home opportunity against another top-50 team they need to take advantage of. Doing so could go a long way toward keeping a streak alive that Smart kicked off at VCU, that being the Rams seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
A QUICK LOOK AT TEXAS
Coming off literally their worst season in the school’s history, Shaka Smart’s third edition Longhorns are looking to put last year’s 11-22 finish behind them with a roster packed full of young talent. The Nation’s 340th least experienced team is headlined by top-5 2017 recruit Mohamed Bamba, a Larry Sanders clone who grabs every rebound in site and is blocking 16.7% of opponents shots this season for Texas’ fifth-ranked defense, as well as freshman point guard Matt Coleman, a Norfolk product who leads the team in assists and minutes on an offense looking to take a big step forward this season. While those two have provided the Longhorn fanbase some optimism after last season’s struggles, it’s returning guards Andrew Jones (14.7 ppg, 38.7% 3p%) and Kerwin Roach (11.7 ppg, 62.3% FG%), as well as recently activated Tulane transfer, Dylan Osetkowski (13.6 ppg, 8 reb), that have perhaps been the key players in Texas’ promising start. That start has resulted in some very competitive basketball, but like VCU, hasn’t really resulted in wins. The Longhorns picked up a nice win over Butler in this year’s PK80 tournament before dropping back-to-back games in overtime against top-ranked Duke and last season’s national runner-up, Gonzaga. With close counting in only horseshoes and hand grenades, that makes tonight’s emotional road contest at VCU a key opportunity for this Texas team to pick up a quality win before entering a brutal Big 12 conference schedule. Like Shaka Smart-coached teams of VCU’s past, this Texas group is led by their defense. The Longhorns are holding teams to a stingy 42.8% effective field goal percentage thanks to Bamba’s shot-blocking and Smart is seeing his first group of havoc-wreakers in Austin as well, turning teams over 22.4% of their possessions (up from 18.5 or less his first two season’s at Texas). Offensively the Longhorns have for the second consecutive season been absolutely horrendous from three so instead take the majority of their shots inside the arc where they are insanely efficient. Texas will visit the Stu for their first true road game of the year, looking to break a true road game losing streak of 11 games that began almost exactly one year ago at Michigan.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams have won three of their last four including a recent rivalry Siegel Center win over an Old Dominion team that is actually quite similar to the Texas team VCU will play today. The black and gold scored at least 82 points in all three wins and have been one of the more dangerous VCU offenses in recent memory, averaging 81.1 points per game and boasting a 54.8% effective field goal percentage that is the best at VCU since kenpom.com has been keeping the stat (2002). What’s perhaps most impressive about those numbers is the Rams have managed to keep that offensive momentum going even without explosive scorers Issac Vann (12.5 ppg) and Malik Crowfield (8.2 ppg, 41.9% 3p%), posting a 58.5% EFG% without them against a Monarchs team allowing just a 47.5% EFG% this season. Include free throws and you get an even more impressive 64.1% true shooting percentage in that game. But while the Rams offense has been sensational for the most part, the defense has struggled. VCU has been particularly bad at defending the paint, allowing teams to shoot 53.2% inside the arc against them, a terrifying number considering today’s opponent and their preferred method of scoring. A decent chunk of those buckets however seem to have come from easy transition buckets coming off VCU turnovers. ODU scored 8 such points against VCU in the Rams’ most recent game and 18 points off VCU’s 16 turnovers in total. The black and gold have been fairly good however at limiting turnovers as a season stat, so will need to limit those tonight against Texas’ swarming press to pull out the win.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 81.1, UT 69.3
Scoring Defense: UT 63.3, VCU 75.5
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 54.8%, UT 51.5%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: UT 42.8%, VCU 52.2%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 41.1%, UT 27.2%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: UT 28.3%, VCU 33.7%
2-Point Field Goal%: UT 57.3%, VCU 50.9%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: UT 43%, VCU 53.2%
Rebounds per game: UT 39.9, VCU 37.5
Turnover% Offense: UT 15.4%, VCU 17.4%
Turnover% Defense: UT 22.4%, VCU 18.8%
VCU WINS IF
If, somehow, VCU can turn this game into a three-point shooting contest, I love the Rams in this one. On the season Texas has been elite at guarding the easy baskets — although that 43% two-point defense is somewhat misleading thanks to a schedule that has included some of the worst two-point offenses in basketball (three teams in the bottom 26 of that stat nationally) and both Duke and Gonzaga finished 50% or better against the Longhorns — anyway, I’m of the opinion trying to lay the ball in with Bamba patrolling the paint could prove to be a fool’s errand. I think if this three-point loving, green light seeing VCU team gets going from distance, we could have some fun. The Longhorns have played a total of one good three-point shooting team this season, Gonzaga. The Bulldogs hit 40.7% of their 27 threes in that win and that Gonzaga team isn’t statistically as good as the Rams from downtown. On the other end of the court I’m dying to see VCU somehow figure out a way to make Texas hit the deep ball. The Longhorns have been absolutely terrible at shooting the three for two years now, so if VCU’s guards can stay in front of the speedy Coleman, Roach and Jones trio, forcing them to make things happen from distance (which hasn’t really happened this season for VCU so easier said than done), we could all have a very pleasant evening.
Kenpom: 75-71 VCU loss with a 34% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 7PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA