Game Preview: VCU at UMass [INSIDER]

It’s hard to believe VCU is still within striking distance of a top-4 seed despite a 7-7 conference record, but that’s exactly where we are. The Rams can enter the top-4 this evening if VCU can bounce back from one of the worst losses in program history, a 24-point loss to a sub-200 George Washington team they suffered this past weekend in Foggy Bottom. VCU will look to avoid dropping below .500 in A-10 play against a UMass team that has been so decimated by injury and suspensions that they had a UMass football player walk-on to the team just  this month.

VCU (15-12, 7-7)
UMASS (11-6, 4-10)

A QUICK LOOK AT UMASS

After a somewhat promising start for first-year head coach Matt McCall that included home top-100 wins over Providence and Georgia, injuries and suspensions took their toll on this UMass team and have left them literally picking up athletes off of other school teams to fill their roster. UMass 6’4 quarterback, Randall West, recently joined the Minutemen basketball tearm despite no experience as a college hooper and has played a total of 19 minutes in UMass’ last two contests, both losses as a part of a 1-9 stretch for the Minutemen. Despite an incredibly thin undersized roster that features just one player over 6’6, the Minutemen have fought and competed, taking A-10 No.1 to the wire in a two-point home loss on Jan 30, then recently battled to a five-point loss at Davidson. UMass has been led by 5’11 sophomore Luwane Pipkins, the team’s leading scorer at 20.9 points per game and a deadly shooter at 41% beyond the arc, as well as 6’4 freshman Carl Pierre, an even deadlier shooter who’s connecting on 47.2% of his threes this season. The Minutemen have the A-10’s sixth-ranked offense, but rank dead last in conference defensive efficiency, giving up a 56.2% shooting inside the arc. The Minutemen would like to slow the game down, especially with such a thin roster, but have given up 80 or more points in their last seven contests.

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU

It seems like a lifetime ago when we were all excited about Rhoades and Co. bringing an explosive style of offense back to VCU. After starting off connecting on over 40% of their threes through the majority of the non-conference season, VCU has gone ice-cold offensively, ranking ninth in Atlantic 10 offensive efficiency, which is surprisingly lower than a VCU defense that has struggled to get stops all season long.

While Justin Tillman has been one constant on this team, virtually ever other player has struggled with consistency or in some major part of their game.

Among VCU’s biggest issues in conference has been turnovers (13th in the league), three-point shooting (12th) and just defending in general. The first two of those areas the Rams were actually solid in during the beginning of the season, so a return to offensive efficiency seemed on the radar prior to VCU’s back-to-back offensive debacles against Davidson (41% shooting, 20 turnovers) and GW (37.3% shooting, 17 turnovers), the later the most surprising as the Colonials sit at 12th in Atlantic 10 defensive efficiency and gave up 87 to VCU the first time around.

Can VCU turn the offense around? Are the Rams due for a regression to the mean? Did we peek too early? We’ll likely know in a few hours.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Scoring Offense: VCU 76.1, UMASS 71.3
Scoring Defense: UMASS 73.8, VCU 75.4
Effective Field Goal% Offense: UMASS 52.2%, VCU 52%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: UMASS 51.3%, VCU 51.9%
3-Point Field Goal%: UMASS 39.1%, VCU 34.8%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: UMASS 34.5%, VCU 34.7%
2-Point Field Goal%: VCU 51.9%, UMASS 48.1%

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: UMASS 51%, VCU 51.8%
Rebounds per game: VCU 36.7, UMASS 33.1
Turnover% Offense: UMASS 18.9%, VCU 19%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 18.3%, UMASS 16.9%

VCU WINS IF

I’m stubborn enough to think this is the game VCU’s offense finally gets back on track. UMass’ struggling defense, limited size and short bench combined with VCU’s high-tempo offense led by Justin Tillman should create some easy baskets for the Rams. If VCU can limit UMass’ shooters and run guys off the line, they have a great shot at returning to Richmond 8-7 heading into a huge weekend matchup with St. Bonaventure.

Kenpom: 76-75 UMass win with a 50% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 7PM at the Mullins Center in Amherst, MA

Watch: MASN, Official game day headquarters are Baja Bean Co. in the Fan and 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

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