Game Preview: No.20 VCU v No.17 Tennessee [INSIDER]

The Rams suffered their first setback of the season Friday night, falling 59-56 in a back-and-forth battle against 2019 Elite 8 participant, Purdue. The black and gold will have only a matter of hours to turn the page however, as Saturday offers a major challenge against nationally ranked Tennessee, upset losers of their first Emerald Coast Classic game as well. Winner will add a nice victory to their March resume. Loser leaves Florida 0-2 on the week with two missed opportunities in their rearview.

VCU (6-1)

Coached by the man Shaka Smart was hired to replace at Texas, Tennessee has seen their stock back on the rise under fifth-year head coach, Rick Barnes, including a No.2 seed in last season's NCAA tournament that resulted in a Sweet 16 appearance for the SEC school, coincidentally a loss to a Purdue program that knocked off VCU Friday evening.

Gone are the power trio of Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone, a group responsible for 59% of the Vols' points this past season, 44.6% of their rebounds and 59.5% of their assists, not to mention 6'11 senior big Kyle Alexander, but back is a talented group that's putting their own spin on Tennessee basketball, a style so far that has equaled one of the best defenses in the country.

The Vols limited Florida State to just 60 points on 35% shooting Friday evening, blocking seven of the Seminoles shots, three of those blocks coming from the insanely athletic Yves Pons, a 6'6 junior who has blocked at least three shots in five of Tennessee's six contests this season. He's been a huge part of Tennessee's elite rim protection this season, a group that ranks eight nationally in defensive blocks percentage. It's early, but overall the Vols' adjusted defensive efficiency is up over last season's nationally ranked group. Where that's been offset is on the other end of the floor where Tennessee has gone from an insanely efficient offense (third nationally last year) to simply a very good one (37th nationally).

Barnes' squad has been a solid shooting team, but have (and VCU fans will love this)....struggled a bit with turnovers. Just under 12% of their offensive possessions result in a steal (that ranks 327th nationally) and one of every five trips down the floor have resulted in a turnover. The Vols turned it over 21 times in their lost to FSU and 17 times against the Mike Morell-coached (former VCU assistant) Bulldogs of UNC Asheville, numbers that are higher than they seem due to Tennessee's preferred slower pace of action this year.

Depth wise Tennessee typically goes about seven deep, a group that's quite similar to VCU in terms of size. The Vols play a bit of a positionless style of hoops, using 6'9 212 junior, John Fulkerson, as the five spot and 6'5-6'6 through spots two through four. Senior Lamonte Turner, a 6'2 point guard, captains the offense and is averaging a team second best 14.7 points per game while dishing out a ridiculous eight assists a night. He can however, be extremely turnover prone and has three nights of six or more turnovers this season including a season-worst eight in the loss to Florida State. Turner is a bit of a wild card from deep, posting a career-best 45.2% three-point conference average as a sophomore, but was under 32% from deep every other season.

Numbers geek note: Tennessee's shot selection has been somewhat questionable to start the season, with most of their shot attempts coming via the advanced analytics fan's least advised shot: the long two. 34.8% of Tennessee's attempts this season have come off of two-point jump shots as opposed to 30.8% at the rim and 34.5% from beyond the arc.

Turnovers have haunted VCU for a couple of seasons now and it doomed them last night in the close loss to Purdue. The black and gold rank 261st nationally in turnover percentage offense this season and gave it up 21 times against the Boilermakers, which combined with an abysmal 3-17 three-point night meant VCU just missed on having enough to notch a quality resume win.

VCU will hope to quickly turn the page and take advantage of that Tennessee offense that has struggled with turnovers themselves. Friday's opponent, Purdue, rarely did that coming into their matchup with the Rams before turning it over a season-worst 18 times.

The loss moved VCU to 1-1 against top-100 teams this season after narrowly defeating LSU earlier in the year -- a team picked to finish ahead of Tennessee in this year's SEC preseason poll -- with just one other top-100 opportunity in the non-conference, Wichita State, remaining on the schedule.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 74.3, UT 71</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UT 55.8, VCU 61.4</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 51.9%, UT 50.9%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UT 40.9%, VCU 45.5%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UT 35.4%, VCU 35.2%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UT 28.6%, VCU 32.1%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 51.2%, UT 49.8%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UT 39.9%, VCU 44%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UT 39.5, VCU 34.3</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UT 20.1%, VCU 21.5%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 28.8%, UT 20.6%</span>

Two elite defenses combined with two turnover-prone offenses hints that this one could get ugly. Florida State managed to defeat the Vols despite an inefficient night scoring by turning them over those 21 times, something VCU will likely need to replicate tonight with their havoc defense.

Tennessee has virtually no backup point guard, making this Vols team extremely reliable on Turner to stay out of foul trouble and in the game. If VCU can, somehow, someway, sideline him early, the Rams could potentially feast on his backup, 6'6 freshman Josiah-Jordan James, who's 32.8% turnover rate ranks worst on the team among players who have played in all six contests. Marcus Evans' elite ability to draw fouls by attacking the basket could be huge for the Rams tonight.

Kenpom: 68-66 VCU loss with a 42% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 4PM at The Arena at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida.

Watch: <a href="">Emerald Coast</a>
Listen: <a href=";pname=1248&amp;campid=header&amp;cid=index.html">Fox Sports 910 AM &amp; 98.5 FM</a>
Live Tweets: <a href="">@VCURamNation</a>

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Mat Shelton-Eide
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