After a weird, abrupt ending to the 2019-20 season, the Rams tip up 2020-21 in similar fashion, having rerouted from Knoxville to Sioux Falls almost literally overnight to grab a freshly-available spot in this years Bad Boys Mowers Crossover Classic. It’s a three-game gauntlet that will test this young Rams squad, but one that may give us a read on this year’s black and gold much quicker than perhaps we would’ve anticipated with a field full of nothing but top-100 teams.
VCU (Kenpom preseason No.90)
UTAH STATE (Kenpom preseason No.69)
A QUICK LOOK AT UTAH STATE
While VCU didn’t get to tip up their first game in last year’s conference tourney action, Utah State completed their’s, winning last season’s Mountain West Conference tournament thanks to a three-point upset win over regular season champ, San Diego State. The Aggies had a great season overall prior to being denied an earned NCAA tourney bid, finishing 26-8 on the season and ranked 41st nationally by Kenpom. State did so with a balanced team that ranked top-50 on both sides of the ball.
Offensively Utah State did a great job of taking efficient shots close to the hoop, finishing 35th in the country in two-point field goal percentage. They were a strong rebounding team when those shots didn’t fall and even better on the defensive glass. A big part of that success came via then-sophomore big man, 6’7 Moore, OK native, Justin Bean. Bean brings his 11.9-point, 10.5-rebound double-double average back and will hope to help fill for the major graduation loss of Sam Merrill (19.7 ppg, 41% 3p%), the final pick of this year’s NBA Draft. He’ll join returning leading scorer Neemius Queta (13 ppg) as the squads two returning double-digit scorers on a team picked to win this year’s MWC.
Merrill dumped 20+ on Aggie opponents his final 11 games including a career finale 27-point performance. How Utah State deals with the loss of that reliability may be a key in tonight’s contest against the Rams.
Player to watch: Neemias Queta
Not only is Queta the Aggies’ returning leading scorer, but a 7′ 245-lb big man who will be impossible to miss. He may have the rare opportunity of looking up to his matchup tonight, as the Rams welcome 7’1 Coppin State trasnfer, Brendan Medley-Bacon, to this year’s lineup.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
After a strong 17-6 start to the 2019-20 season that included a huge win over the Will Wade-led LSU Tigers, the Rams limped into the offseason, losing seven of their final eight games including three inside the friendly pre-COVID packed confines of the Stuart C. Siegel Center. So what happened?
Well, one theory that is backed by a bunch of statistics is VCU’s senior-heavy group did not get the production they needed from their experienced players. Of VCU’s six players who averaged 20+ minutes in conference play, four were seniors. Only one of those seniors, De’Riante Jenkins, finished within VCU’s top-7 in team player efficiency rating. That inefficiency was a huge part of VCU’s offensive finishing a below average eighth in A-10 offensive efficiency and with a defense that went from tops in the league the season prior to sixth last year, there was just not enough production to avoid finishing in the bottom half of the league.
Add injuries to the likes of Corey Douglas and Vince Williams, and the wheels came off in a way that Ram fans just haven’t been used to seeing since Jeff Capel first started the black and gold turnaround back in 2004.
We will see a much difference look tonight, for better or for worse.
Five players who started at least 20 games last season have either graduated or transferred. Only Bones Hyland returns having averaged significant minutes for the Rams last season. VCU will hope Kansas State grad transfer, Levi Stockard, combined with a healthier Corey Douglas, will help fill the experience void for the the Rams and will hope that a extremely promising young group that includes two top-2 A-10 recruiting classes the last two years, will be ready for prime time sooner rather than later.
VCU WINS IF
I think VCU must win the battle of the paint to pull of what would be an exciting early season upset tonight. Utah State did a ton well last year, but they weren’t particularly dangerous from beyond the three-point line. If VCU can turn this into a three-point shooting contest, they will give Ram fans a lot to be thankful for heading into this Thanksgiving weekend.
Kenpom: 70-67 VCU loss with a 40% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 9:30PM at Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, SD