VCU hits the road for the briefest of trips, heading crosstown tonight to take on rival Richmond in a rematch of last month’s Siegel Center debacle that resulted in a 67-52 Spiders win. Both teams are coming off home losses, VCU a 13-point loss to A-10 No.1 Rhode Island, the Spiders a 79-75 Robins Center loss to the hapless George Mason Patriots. VCU will look to avoid the rare Spider sweep tonight in a huge contest with potential A-10 tournament implications.
VCU (14-9, 6-4)
Richmond (8-14, 6-4)
A QUICK LOOK AT RICHMOND
The Spiders got off to one of the worst starts in program history, kicking things off 3-13 with a young team learning to play without graduated stars TJ Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones. After a 1-3 Atlantic 10 start however, Richmond started to put things together, winning their next five games including huge road wins at VCU, Duquesne and Davidson. A Demonte Buckingham-less Spider team however halted that streak this past weekend in a loss to a struggling Mason team. It was the Spiders seventh home loss on the season.
Overall Richmond has been much improved in conference play. The Spiders’ numbers are up considerably since entering Atlantic 10 action, which was perhaps to be expected against a conference schedule that includes just three top-100 teams versus a non-conference slate that included eight current top-100 squads.
The Spiders currently rank sixth in the A-10 in offensive efficiencyand fifth on the defensive end, both rankings higher than this VCU team. They rank No.3 in two big ones: offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage. Where the Spiders have struggled in the A-10 has been on the boards, but didn’t have that struggle in their last meeting between these two, out-rebounding VCU by 10.
The Spiders employ one of the shallowest benches in the conference, playing five players 30 or more minutes per contest, perhaps no more important of a player than 6’10 260 center Grant Golden. Golden led all scorers in the last matchup between these two with 17 points on 7-10 shooting inside the arc in a game the Spiders converted on 59.5% of their two-point attempts against the Rams.
Richmond is 0-5 on the season when Golden picks up four or more fouls, the Spiders losing those five contests by an average margin of 20.5 points per game. Hey now!
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
We’re 23 games in, so you probably have a good idea of what this team is about. The Rams have a capable roster of scorers but have yet to find a solid combo of defense and offense against good teams. The Rams are 1-6 against the kenpom top-100 this season, 3-1 against teams ranked 101-150 and 2-2 against teams 151-200.
That right there pretty much should tell you about how good this team is. Top half of the country but overall pretty average.
What Ram fans are trying to figure out — and where I think most of the frustration comes from — is are we overachieving or underachieving? Should we be better? Should we be worse?
On the overachieving side you’ve got a Rams team with eight players who played not one minute on last year’s team and overall a pretty young, er…inexperienced (210 nationally in experience) group to boot. New coach, a bunch of new players and a bunch of competitive games that didn’t result in wins. Score a point for overachieving.
On the opposite side of that you look at some of these new pieces, particularly Issac Vann and Khris Lane that both have averaged at least 16 points per game on previous DI teams, combine them with an A10 Player of the Year candidate in Justin Tillman, a 4-star senior guard in Johnny Williams, a top-50 sophomore (who played a post-grad year, so is older than you might expect) in De’Riante that can flat out score, some pretty highly recruited young players in Malik Crowfield, Sean Mobley and Marcus Santos-Silva, then you compare that level of talent with some previous VCU teams — and I’m talking Jeff Capel era, some before and some after — and you wonder, “I don’t know, are we actually underachieving?”.
A tough debate, but what’s not debatable is this team’s major weakness: these Rams can not defend the paint.
VCU is allowing teams to connect on 51.7% of their twos, the worst two-point on Broad St. D in decades. Sadly, things don’t seem to be improving there either.
After limiting three of their first four A-10 opponents below their season two-point scoring percentage averages, the Rams have allowed five of their last six opponents to finish above their season-long averages.
That is the Achilles heel that may ultimately prove to be what lowers this groups ceiling on the season, limiting just two of their opponents to below 54% inside the arc in VCU’s nine losses this season.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: VCU 77, UofR 68.7
Scoring Defense: UofR 73.9, VCU 74.9
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 51.9%, UofR 50.5%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 51.5%, UofR 53.7%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 35.2%, UofR 31.9%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 34.1%, UofR 35.7%
2-Point Field Goal%: UofR 52.1%, VCU 51.4%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 51.7%, UofR 53.9%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37.2, UofR 30.7
Turnover% Offense: UofR 17.4%, VCU 18.6%
Turnover% Defense: UofR 19.9%, VCU 18.4%
VCU WINS IF
Repeating that fun stat that I noticed this morning: Richmond is 0-5 on the season when starting big man Grant Golden picks up four or more fouls, losing those games by an average margin of 20.5 points per game.
A related and important stat: Golden has taken 32.5% of Richmond’s available shots this season when on the floor, which is the third most of all A-10 players this year and is more than TJ Cline took last season.
Cleary, Richmond’s freshman big man is incredibly important to this Spiders team, meaning he can not afford any foul trouble (which makes it a bit harder to defend, no?). I think if the Rams go at the basket at the same rate they did during the undefeated versus Richmond Will Wade era, they can win this on the road.
Will Wade’s Rams averaged 45.8 twos per game against Richmond versus 15.3 threes and attempted 21.6 free throws per contest during that five-game undefeated span. This season the Rams attempted just 38 twos to 23 threes and attempted just eight free throws against a Spiders team that has been even worse defensively on the interior than those previous two teams.
Love him or hate him, Will Wade drew up a pretty simple blueprint to follow on how to beat the Spiders. This year’s team can follow those basic instructions and pull out a road win or go off script like they did on January 17 and live with the results.
Win the paint, win the game.
Kenpom: 75-74 VCU win with a 51% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 9PM at the Robins Center in Henrico, 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