VCU heads to Saint Louis tonight for a crucial road tilt against the SLU Billikens. A win would move VCU to 5-3 and keeps the Rams on the heels of the league leaders. A loss and the black and gold drift further away from an important A-10 tournament double-bye due to what would be the second head-to-head tie-breaking loss to an A-10 team this season in their only regular season meeting. Despite some early struggles, SLU comes into this one on a two-game winning streak and are looking to continue their rankings climb, up to No.145 according to kenpom, SLU’s highest ranking since December of 2015.
VCU (12-8, 4-3)
SLU (10-10, 3-4)
A QUICK LOOK AT SAINT LOUIS
Expectations were relatively high for this year’s SLU team under second-year head coach, Travis Ford. After a 12-21 introductory season, Ford’s Bills looked to reload with a highly rated recruiting class and some key transfers, being picked to finish in the top half of the A-10 this preseason at No.7. But a Title IX investigation has sidelined transfers Ty Graves and Adonys Henriquez as well as key SLU returnee Jermaine Bishop and the Billikens have had to fight to maintain .500 without them.
SLU opened their season with three straight wins including a surprising upset of top-50 Virginia Tech, then followed it up with a four-game losing streak that included bad losses to the likes of Detroit (kenpom No.301) and Western Michigan (by 14). It’s been that sort of year in general for this young Billikens team, a capable group of beating or losing to anyone.
SLU has used an efficient defense to keep games close but hasn’t quite found enough offense to get them over the hump in some key contests. The Billikens took a 63-62 lead with under six minutes to play recently against conference leader Rhode Island, then were held to just one basket for the remainder of the game in the eventual 7-point loss. SLU was held to just 41% from the field in the near-upset of the conference’s only ranked team and hit just one three on the game. It was the second near-upset for Saint Louis over a three-game span, losing two games earlier at Davidson despite leading the Wildcats by 11 at the half. The Billikens held what’s been the conference’s best offense to just 54 points, but connected on just 37.8% of shots themselves in what could’ve been a huge road win for SLU.
SLU is led by Michigan State transfer Javon Bess, top-60 freshman, Jordan Goodwin, and senior guard, Devell Roby.
Those three are SLU’s only three players averaging 30 or more minutes per contest and only three averaging double-digit scoring. Bess and Goodwin have been more volume players than they have been efficient, while Roby is yet again the team’s most dangerous three-point threat, hitting 41.2% of his threes in A-10 play and 39.3% of his 84 attempts on the season.
Freshman Hasahn French is a name to watch as well. The former VCU target perhaps best represents this team’s current identity, blocking 8.2% of opponents shots and leading SLU with a +5.6 defensive box plus/minus.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
It was a tale of two halves for VCU in the Rams’ most recent win over George Washington. The black and gold allowed a struggling GW team to keep things close early, allowing the poor-shooting Colonials to hit over 80% of their first half two-point attempts (they rank 201st nationally on the season in 2-point offense at 49%), but bounced back to limit GW to 33% inside the arc in the second half of the Rams’ 24-point win.
It was the sort of up-and-down type of performance we’ve gotten used to from this young Rams team.
VCU was dominated in their previous two contests by both Dayton and Richmond, games the black and gold never seemed to show up in and needed post-halftime rallies to erase deficits in the two games prior to those against La Salle and Duquesne.
Like SLU the Rams have shown an ability to play with the best teams on their schedule or lose to the worst. And like SLU, that seems to come from a lack of balance on this year’s team.
The Rams can be downright explosive at times offensively, connecting on the best offensive effective field goal percentage (52.3%) since Jeff Capel’s first tournament team in 2004, but effectively erasing that impressive offense by allowing opponents to connect on 52.4% themselves, making this the lowest rated VCU defense (170th nationally) in decades.
VCU’s ability to flash a little more of the defense we saw during the second half of GW will go a long way in determining the ultimate fate of this year’s Rams team. With a struggling SLU offense on the other side of the court, look for signs of exactly which direction the defense is headed in tonight.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 77.3, SLU 66.2
Scoring Defense: SLU 65.7, VCU 74.6
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 52.3%, SLU 46.6%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: SLU 49.4%, VCU 52.4%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 35.9%, SLU 30.3%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: SLU 34.9%, VCU 35.3%
2-Point Field Goal%: VCU 51.4%, SLU 47.2%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: SLU 47.7%, VCU 52.1%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37.2, GW 35.5
Turnover% Offense: VCU 18.8%, SLU 19.2%
Turnover% Defense: SLU 19.3%, VCU 18.6%
VCU WINS IF
I’m of the opinion VCU will need to force SLU into tough shots (shots from distance) while hitting some low percentage shots themselves to win what could be a dogfight on the road.
The past two games we saw what bad offense can do when the Rams allow them a layup line to the basket. Richmond thoroughly embarrassed VCU in the Siegel Center thanks a good bit to their 59.5% two-point shooting night (65.7% of UofR’s points that night). The Rams then allowed a bad GW team to hang early despite the black and gold hitting 61.5% of their shots in the first half, the Colonials connecting on nine of their first 11 twos in the game.
VCU gave up six twos on 18 attempts for GW in the last 20 minutes of Rams bball we all watched, which is exactly the type of performance we need again against a Saint Louis team that ranks 320th nationally in effective field goal percentage offense.
Offensively I’m looking for a patient offense that is free of little league heroes. Reckless drives to the hoop without an exit strategy will not go well against this Billikens team, but a Rams offense spreading the love might be able to do some damage to Travis Ford and Co.’s usually tough defense.
Kenpom: 69-67 VCU loss with a 40% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 9PM at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, MO.
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