Game Preview: VCU v Davidson [INSIDER]

VCU takes on Davidson tonight in a Valentine’s Day matchup that will end in heartbreak for one of these teams competing for a top-4 seed in this year’s A-10 tournament. With the Rams 7-5 and the Wildcats 8-4, this sole meeting between the two this regular season will give the victor a head-to-head tie-breaker for the final standings, should they need it. VCU can not afford to drop this one, as the Rams are already sitting on the wrong side of a tie-breaker with 7-6 Richmond, a team VCU would fall behind with a loss tonight. A win however puts the Rams essentially a game up on Davidson despite what would be an even record and would keep VCU 100% in charge of their own destiny.

VCU (15-10, 7-5)
DAVIDSON (13-10, 8-4)

A QUICK LOOK AT DAVIDSON

The Wildcats are a very hard team to understand, even this deep into the season. Davidson ranks No.58 nationally by kenpom as of this post and has the 24th most efficient offense. In A-10 play Davidson checks in a No.1 on the offensive side of the ball and No.2 on D. But like VCU, a talented offense hasn’t always equaled wins against good teams.

The Cats are 1-5 versus the kenpom top-100, their sole win coming just recently in a conference home victory over St. Bonaventure (VCU is 1-6). Like VCU, Davidson was swept by Richmond but unlike VCU, the Cats have two sub-200 losses to the likes of Appalachian State (a 16-point home loss to a team VCU beat by 15) and a road loss to No.223 Hawaii. Of Davidson’s 13 wins, nine have come against teams ranked 200 or below, but the majority of those coming in absolute blowouts of their opponents, a sample that makes them just incredibly hard to judge.

Once again the Cats are led by versatile 6’8 forward Peyton Aldridge, a legit contender for A-10 Player of the Year who leads the Cats at 20 points per game and 6.8 rebounds a night.

The Wildcats saw the graduation of explosive guard Jack Gibbs but helped fill that role with the addition of talented freshman, Kellen Grady. Grady is chipping in 16.3 points per game for Davidson and has a ridiculous 60.8% true shooting percentage that is actually outpacing Aldridge.

But as good as he’s been, he might not even be the best guard on this Davidson team, that honor going to sophomore guard, Jon Axel Gudmundsson. The Grindavic, Iceland native leads the team with five assists per game, is chipping in an Aldridge-esque six rebounds per contest and is scoring 14.3 ppg while shooting 40.2% beyond the arc. Gudmundsson leads the team with a +7.3 box +/-.

That group is joined by talented guard Rusty Reigel and KiShawn Pritchett who are both having career years, both of whom are shooting above 47% from three-point range.

On the hole Davidson is a team that loves to utilize those shooters as well, taking basically half of their shots from beyond the three-point line.

Defensively the Cats had some serious early season struggles but made a Christmas Day (literally) switch to 2-3 zone defense that has played a key part in the Cats winning nine of their last 13 contests. On the season the Cats are giving up a rough 51.6% effective field goal percentage (212th nationally) but have reduced that number to 49.9% in conference play, good for a tie with Fordham for third in the league behind Saint Louis (48.7%) and Rhode Island (49%).

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU

The Rams pulled out a very important home win over Dayton this past weekend, outlasting the Flyers in overtime after watching a 17-point lead deteriorate late in regulation. It was an end of game type of struggle we’ve seen often this season and one that has essentially made what could’ve been a great season just an average one.

The Rams let opportunities against Michigan, Texas and Richmond all slip late, but did pull out close-game wins at La Salle and Saint Louis prior to hanging on against Dayton. Still, add just two of those missed opportunities to the win column and you’ve either got a drastically improved RPI at 17-8 with at least one extra top-100 win or a better cushion in A-10 play with a 8-4 conference record that would’ve denied Richmond of a head-to-head tie-breaker.

Nothing we can do about any of that now. What VCU can do however is control their own destiny and the Rams have favorable schedule in which to do so.

A win over Davidson tonight puts the Rams on the good side of the top-4 line, a spot needed to grab an important double-bye in next month’s A-10 tournament.

Four of VCU’s remaining opponents are essentially sub-200ish teams, the sole exception being UMass at No.196. VCU’s two remaining top-100 games both come at the Siegel Center and would both give the Rams a head-to-head tie-breaker over teams currently competing for a top-4 seed.

The key for VCU in getting where they want to go seems to be an improving defense. The Rams currently rank fifth in A-10 play on the defensive end but that’s a ranking that will likely be challenged today against the league’s top offense.

VCU trends worth watching

Tillmania – Justin Tillman has been a big part of the VCU offense all season, but believe it or not has been even more involved as of late. Tillman had single-digit two-point attempts in seven of the Rams non-conference games, then had two more of those toward the beginning of A-10 play. The senior took a career-high 23 two-point attempts in VCU’s latest win, finishing 17 of those for a career-high 37 points. Tillman is averaging 14 attempts inside the arc his last eight contests since taking just eight against Duquesne. He’s getting off just under two threes per contest over that stretch as well, but it’s the Rams’ insistence on getting him more paint touches that I think is worth watching going forward.

VCU’s new point forward – Freshman Sean Mobley has increasingly become a bigger part of the Rams’ plans, playing over 20 minutes in five of VCU’s last nine contests. Mobley is averaging 6.2 points and 3.7 assists over his last six contests in 21.3 minutes per game during that stretch. I’m of the opinion he can be even more effective as well by utilizing his 6’8 240 frame and bringing more of that magic into the paint. Mobley is shooting a red-hot 45.5% from three in Atlantic 10 action.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Scoring Offense: VCU 77.4, DAV 76
Scoring Defense: DAV 67.1, VCU 75.3
Effective Field Goal% Offense: DAV 57.3%, VCU 52.4%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 51.6%, DAV 51.6%
3-Point Field Goal%: DAV 38.6%, VCU 35.1%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 34.2%, DAV 35.7%
2-Point Field Goal%: DAV 56.8%, VCU 52.3%

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: DAV 50.3%, VCU 51.8%
Rebounds per game: VCU 37.1, DAV 32.7
Turnover% Offense: DAV 14.8%, VCU 18.9%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 18.6%, DAV 17.1.%

VCU WINS IF

VCU needs one of two very important things to give themselves the best shot of pulling this key game out at home: an awesome three-point defensive effort or just an off shooting night from downtown from the Cats. The Rams control only one of those things.

Davidson three-point shooting in losses this season:

v Nevada: 36.1%
v App State: 27.3%
@ UNC: 42.4%
@ UVA: 30.8%
v New Mexico St: 33.3%
@ Hawaii: 33.3%
@ Richmond: 29.6%
@ Dayton: 43.5%
v Richmond: 31.8%
@ Rhode Island: 23.5%

The Cats are shooting 38.6% on the season from distance, an even more impressive number considering the sheer volume they get up from long range. Two of those good three-point shooting losses came against teams (Nevada and UNC) that rank within the top-20 nationally, both on the road. Davidson gave up at least 81 points in each loss. The other came at Dayton, a night the Cats hit 43.5% of their deep balls but a night they totaled just 64 points and gave up 64% shooting inside the arc to the Flyers.

Kenpom: 77-74 Davidson win with a 40% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 7PM 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

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