VCU rides a four-game winning streak into Philadelphia where their week includes a two-game stint in the city of brotherly love that begins Wednesday night at Saint Joseph’s Hagan Arena. The Rams came out victorious in their last trip to Hagan, rallying to defeat that season’s eventual A-10 tourney champs, 85-82 in dramatic fashion. Being picked to finish a spot behind the Hawks in this year’s A-10 preseason poll, the black and gold will once again have something to prove in what VCU will hope will be their first true road win of the season.
VCU (9-5, 1-0)
SAINT JOSEPH’S (5-7, 0-1)
A QUICK LOOK AT SAINT JOSEPH’S
After a very successful 2016 season, Saint Joseph’s took a dive this past year. A combination of key talent departures and injuries took its toll on last season’s Hawks, going from a top-50 28-win NCAA tournament team to a 4-win Atlantic 10 team dealing with youth and injuries to key players. Things were supposed to be different this season for the preseason A-10 top-3 team, but with another pair of unfortunate injuries to Lamarr Kimble (15.5 ppg and 4.5 apg last year) and promising sophomore Charlie Brown (12.8 ppg and 5 rpg last season), that outlook will likely have to be adjusted. The Hawks started their A-10 campaign off with a loss at sub-150 kenpom team, George Washington, their fourth sub-150 loss of the season, taking them from a preseason top-70 team to 130th nationally in kenpom’s current rankings. SJU’s offensive woes from the past season seem to have carried over into their 2017-18 campaign, with an effective field goal percentage just 0.5% better than last year’s group that finished 320th in the country in that stat. Defensively things haven’t been all that much better thanks to a perimeter D that has seen opponents shoot 37% from downtown against Phil Martelli’s squad. With that said, the Hawks have a handful of players who can still hurt you. That group is led by senior Shavar Newkirk. Newkirk missed most of last season due to injury but exploded for over 20 ppg when active. He’s back and is averaging 17.1 ppg for the Hawks but has been a less efficient shooter this season, his EFG% back down to the 42% he posted his sophomore season, down 10% from his brief sample last season. Newkirk checks in at second in scoring on this year’s team following sophomore James Demery and his 17.3 per contest. Like Newkirk so far, Demery has been somewhat more of a volume guy this season than an efficient scorer with a still solid effective field goal percentage of 49.1%. But the biggest surprise for SJU this season and perhaps the biggest surprise in the A-10 is the offensive performance of 6’9 freshman, Taylor Funk. The Lancaster, PA native is a bright spot of efficiency on an otherwise inefficient team, pacing the team with an outstanding 63.4% true shooting percentage and a team-high +4.7 box plus/minus. Overall the Hawks have struggled as a team but individually players have shown the ability to be much more dangerous than they’ve consistently been this season, which, combined with a homecourt advantage will have VCU on red alert in Philadelphia tonight.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The Rams have healed up from some early season injuries, returning key rotation players Malik Crowfield and Issac Vann from high-ankle sprains that sidelined them early in the year. The duo provides the Rams with two dangerous scorers who have each scored at least 17 points in a game this season. The duo are two of VCU’s more well-rounded as well, rankings second and third overall on this year’s team in overall box plus/minus behind De’Riante Jenkins. And that’s what is scary about this VCU group (in a good way). The Rams are talented, have a solid 9-5 record considering the injuries and the schedule, but have yet to really put things together to demonstrate just how dangerous they can really be. VCU’s most efficient game overall (according to Haslametrics) came in the season opener against Grambling with the services of both Crowfield and Vann, followed by a dominant performance against California without Vann. Someone, some team, is going to catch this VCU group on the absolute wrong day, a day that VCU will demonstrate just how good they are capable of being. Will it be tonight?
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 77.7, SJU 73.6
Scoring Defense: VCU 73.4, SJU 75.8
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 53%, SJU 47.1%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: SJU 51.4%, VCU 51.7%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 37.9%, SJU 31.7%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 33.2%, SJU 37%
2-Point Field Goal%: VCU 50.7%, SJU 46.7%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: SJU 47.9%, VCU 52.8%
Rebounds per game: SJU 38.7, VCU 37.1
Turnover% Offense: SJU 13.3%, VCU 18.4%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 19.5%, SJU 16.4%
Strength of Schedule Rank: SJU 97, VCU 172
VCU WINS IF
On paper, VCU should be able to shoot SJU out of their own gym. But that only happens if the Rams don’t allow the Hawks a rare good night from three like they did Fordham. The black and gold allowed a 28.7% three-point shooting Fordham team to connect on 37.5% in the Siegel Center, turning a 20-point VCU halftime lead into just an 8-point VCU second half advantage late. Saint Joseph’s is about as bad as Fordham from beyond the arc but like Fordham, will also take over 40% their shots from three. VCU wants them taking those shots but they must still be contested shots. Limit easy buckets, force tough shots and the numbers suggest the Rams offense should be able to outpace SJU tonight.
Kenpom: 77-76 VCU loss with a 45% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 7PM at Hagan Arena in Philadelphia, PA