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Game Preview: VCU at Richmond [INSIDER]

With a two-game lead on the Davidson Wildcats and just three left to play, your VCU Rams can practically taste a regular season championship and the No.1 seed in this year’s A-10 tournament, what would be the first time any VCU team has achieved that seed since the Rams first joined the conference for the 2012-13 season. Two rival road blocks stand in our way however, the first coming this afternoon against UofR. VCU blasted the Spiders in the first meeting between these two, 81-60, and are looking to pay back the Spiders 2017-18 sweep of the Rams with one of our own. A win would lock up at least a share of this year’s Atlantic 10 regular season title.

VCU (22-6, 13-2)
RICHMOND (12-16, 6-9)

A QUICK LOOK AT RICHMOND

You’ve seen these guys once before this year, so you should be aware of UofR’s two biggest issues this season: depth and defense. Richmond currently ranks 286th nationally on the season in adjusted defensive efficiency and due to injuries and two key transfers, go about six deep into their roster. The Spider’s current trio du jour is that of combo guard Jacob Gilyard (16.4 ppg, 5 ast), 6’10 monster Grant Golden (17.5 ppg, 6.9 rebs) and breakout performer, Nathan Cayo (13.1 ppg, 4.1 rebounds), the first two being of particular importance to the Spiders’ success.

Golden saw a bit of foul trouble in the last meeting between these two teams, picking up four fouls to limit him to just 27 minutes of play (four below his season average), helping VCU to finish a ridiculous 68% of their two-point attempts against UofR.

Golden has played under 30 minutes just twice in conference play with the Spiders losing those games (VCU and Davidson) by an average margin of 17 points per contest, albeit in road contests against the A-10’s top two teams.

It’s reasonable to think that while Golden’s presence is vital to Richmond’s success, Gilyard may be even more important, particularly today against VCU’s pressing/trapping defense.

Gilyard is used the second most on the team behind Golden, taking shots on 24.1% of UofR’s possessions, but is Richmond’s primary ball handler, accounting for 95% of available minutes at the point guard spot.

When he struggles, Richmond struggles. No greater example of his importance to this team exists than their 86-66 home defeat at the hands of kenpom No.192 Hampton, one of just two games Gilyard missed the season.

In conference play Richmond’s offense has been insanely efficient at shooting the ball, but checks in at 14th in the league in offensive rebounding to limit the Spiders to a fourth-ranked conference efficiency ranking (VCU is No.2). Defensively it’s been another story altogether, with Richmond ranking dead last in the league heading into today’s game.

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU

The league’s current No.1 got a bit of a test for the A-10’s preseason No.1 when surviving Saint Louis this past week at the Siegel Center, 71-65. The Billikens were able to hang around with the Rams due to a dominating performance on the glass (+13) to negate a -7 turnover disparity and finished an efficient 54.3% of their attempts inside the arc against a VCU team that currently ranks 11th nationally in 2-point% defense at 44%.

Still, the Rams found a way and extended their win streak to nine games and thanks to some help from La Salle this week, basically earned a one-game mulligan for any of these remaining three games.

VCU sits two games up on Davidson, but due to a head-to-head tie-breaker owned by the Cats, would surrender the No.1 seed in Brooklyn to Davidson if the duo finishes with a tied record. That makes games like today extremely important.

A Rams win would, as I mentioned, would earn VCU at least a share of a regular season title today, but when paired with one more of their final two games would make second-year head coach, Mike Rhoades, the only VCU coach to ever win the A-10 regular season title outright.

For the A-10’s current No.2 offense and No.1 defense, a 2-1 finish certainly seems attainable, but with an NCAA tournament at-large bid up for grabs (VCU currently in the field in every single bracket on BracketMatrix.com), a perfect finish to conference play, all games VCU is favored to win, would basically guarantee the Rams their eighth NCAA tournament appearance over the past nine seasons.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Scoring Offense: VCU 71.5, UofR 70.7
Scoring Defense: VCU 61.8, UofR 70.8
Effective Field Goal% Offense: UofR 55%, VCU 50.5%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 42.8%, UofR 53.3%

3-Point Field Goal%: UofR 34.6%, VCU 30.8%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 26.8%, UofR 35.1%
2-Point Field Goal%: UofR 57.1%, VCU 53.5%

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 44%, UofR 53.7%
Rebounds per game: VCU 36.7, UofR 29.1
Turnover% Offense: UofR 15.8%, VCU 20.2%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 23.5%, UofR 18.7%

VCU WINS IF

VCU was lights out in the first matchup between these two, hitting 68% of their attempts inside the arc and a rare 45.5% from deep. That helped turn this into a blowout against a Richmond team that was just short of their season-long 55% effective field goal percentage at 53.5% in the first matchup. I think the key today in a road game is having an even more efficient defense performance to take a Spiders fan based that has had little to cheer for this season, out of the game early.

Lock em down, defeat the crowd and earn at least a share of this season’s regular title today at the Robins Center.

Kenpom: 72-63 VCU win with a 79% chance of a VCU Rams victory.

Game tips at 4PM at the Robins Center in Richmond, VA

Watch: CBS Sports Network
Listen: Fox Sports 910 AM & 98.5 FM
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation

VCU School of the Arts (BFA '07) and Center for Sport Leadership (M.Ed. '10) alumnus, Mat has followed VCU basketball since the Sunbelt days when he'd...