Game Preview: VCU at La Salle [INSIDER]

The Rams will wrap up a two-game Philly trip today and are hoping for a bounce back win after Wednesday’s overtime loss at Saint Joseph’s. In their way however stands an Explorers of La Salle team looking for a little bounce back action themselves, returning home from a 12-point road loss to A-10 favorite, Rhode Island. Winner keeps pace with the top of the conference while loser drops below .500 in the early A-10 race. In the words of Kevin McCallister from Home Alone 1, “this is it, don’t get scared now”.

VCU (9-6, 1-1)
LA SALLE (7-8, 1-1)

A QUICK LOOK AT LA SALLE

La Salle’s start in many ways is similar to what VCU has gone through. Dr. John Giannini’s squad has played a challenging schedule thus far with little to show for it, going 1-5 against kenpom top-100 teams thus far. Unlike VCU however, the Explorers own an ugly loss as well, dropping a home head-scratcher to No.236 Drexel, 72-70. And that was with A-10 POY candidate B.J. Johnson (21.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg) who scored 21 points in the loss. The Explorers have gone 1-2 since Johnson injured his ankle in a 10-point win over Mercer, falling at both Bucknell and Rhode Island and dominating Saint Louis in their one home game without him. Johnson is a game-time decision today. Ram fans are urged to root for a cautious Coach Giannini in returning the dangerous Syracuse transfer. The Explorers are 5-1 at home this season with their best win coming by four points to city rival, Temple (kenpom No.72). Reminder: La Salle also led the current No.3 team in the country, Villanova, through one half of basketball. Offensively La Salle hasn’t been the most accurate of shooting teams this season, but have managed to post a solid adjusted offensive efficiency thanks to their ball security, turning it over just 16.4% of their possessions (38th nationally in that stat). Defensively La Salle has struggled to guard beyond the arc but is quite the opposite inside the paint. They do a nice job of limiting second-chance opportunities and for the most part avoid fouling. They rank No.1 in A-10 effective field goal percentage D, albeit through two games, at a ridiculous lockdown D of 40.6%. Defensively they are led by sophomore Saul Phiri and 6’10 senior, Tony Washington. Offensively B.J. Johnson and Pookie Powell are the guys to watch.

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU

You know these guys already so let me point out some stats you probably haven’t considered that are what I think are the keys to making a good VCU team great:

Turnover % offense: VCU’s 18.8% TO% offense makes this group the most turnover prone team the Rams have had since 2008 (reminder: that was an NIT team).

Free throw rate: VCU’s FTA/FGA of 27.8% ranks them 303rd in the country. That is the worst free throw rate for a VCU team since kenpom started keeping that stat during the 2001-2002 season. This means VCU is not getting the freebies but also, and perhaps more importantly, means they aren’t putting their opponents best players on the bench.

These two stats combined drag a strong shooting Rams teams’ adjusted offensive efficiency down to 108.1, which ranks 92nd nationally, making it the lowest rated offense (again, DESPITE being loaded with shooters) since 2012. Those weaknesses were on full display in VCU’s road loss at St. Joe’s. The Rams drew just 12 fouls on the Hawks and turned the ball over 20 times. Be anything other than terrible in that game in those two stats, hell, be simply just “bad”…and VCU wins that game.

The Rams need both those numbers to rise if they want to be an NCAA tournament team for the eighth consecutive season.

Editor’s note: don’t blame that fouls drawn number on Johnny Williams (which I’ve seen folks have a tendency to do). Williams ranks third among starting point guards in the A-10 at a solid 4.5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, a good but not elite number, although it does lead the team. Rice transfer Marcus Evans was a 6.5 per 40 guy (elite) with the Owls but will not be available until next season.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Scoring Offense: VCU 77.9, LAS 70.8
Scoring Defense: LAS 71, VCU 74.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 52.7%, LAS 49%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: LAS 50.6%, VCU 51%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 36.5%, LAS 32.9%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 32.9%, LAS 38.5%
2-Point Field Goal%: VCU 51.5%, LAS 48.8%

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: LAS 47.4%, VCU 51.9%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37.8, LAS 34.4
Turnover% Offense: LAS 16.4%, VCU 18.8%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 18.8%, LAS 18.3%
Strength of Schedule Rank: LAS 50, VCU 150

VCU WINS IF

The Rams win this one if they shoot like they are capable of and clean up the little things. This is a road game, yes, but this is a road game in front of an opposing crowd that typically draws under 2,000 fans. VCU’s contingent will travel and will do their part to make this feel like as much of a home game as possible, so the Rams gotta reward the traveling black and gold faithful by holding on to the ball on offense, taking smart shots and by limiting mental lapses defensively.

La Salle has some talent on this roster, but for the most part this is the same Explorers roster that VCU beat by 38 points in the Siegel Center last season, if anything it’s arguably a lesser roster due to being WITHOUT big-time scorer Jordan Price or tough big man Demetrius Henry. This year’s Rams need to consider last year’s score as a challenge and fight every second to prove just how good the 2017-18 Rams can be.

Win this won for Coach Rhoades.

Kenpom: 74-72 VCU loss with a 44% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 2PM at Tom Gola Arena in Philadelphia, PA

Watch: NBC Sports, Official game day headquarters at Buffalo Wild Wings location downtown on Cary Street in Richmond, VA.
Listen: Fox Sports 910 AM & 98.5 FM
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation

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