Game Preview: Rams face first A-10 road test against tough Duquesne team

It's been a full month since the Rams played a road game, but with conference play underway, they'll have no choice but to face their first A-10 road challenge of the season tonight against a rebuilt Duquesne Dukes squad. A win for Keith Dambrot and Co. would double their total for all of last season, while a VCU victory would notch the Rams a surprisingly decent NET-booster. VCU finds themselves an unlikely underdog in this one via both kenpom and Vegas, so a chance to play spoiler in Pittsburgh this evening.

VCU RAMS (10-4, 1-0)

Dukes fans and A-10 followers alike raved about the Keith Dambrot hire six years ago, but it's perhaps been a bit bumpier of a ride than maybe even Dambrot expected. The Dukes rebuilt and won 21 games their third year, finishing in the top-100, an amazing accomplishment considering their struggles under previous head coach, Jim Ferry, but following a slew of transfer-outs, the Dukes found themselves back on the bottom this past season, finishing dead last in the A-10 with a 1-16 conference record and a No.280 kenpom ranking. Following that the Dukes found themselves picked to finish last in this year's preseason poll, but thanks to transfers like Dae Dae Grant (Miami of Ohio), Joe Reece (Bowling Green) and one very familiar Jimmy "Tre" Clark (VCU), the Dukes are back looking dangerous.

Duquesne sits at 116 on kenpom currently with a top-100 offense (No.79) and a "decent enough" defense (No.186) to win 11 games so far. They have three solid wins over UC Santa Barbara (No.94), Colgate (No.107) and Indiana State (No.113), which proves them more than capable of taking down the No.109 Rams tonight in Pittsburgh.

Grant (17 ppg) and Clark (11.7) are pacing the Dukes offense, which as a team is shooting 36.6% from three, good enough for 56th nationally at the moment while Reece is pouring in points (9.2) in his limited action (just 16.9 per game, good for a 21.7 per 40 average).

The Dukes haven't found that same level of success inside the arc though where they rank 231st in the nation, but thanks to limited turnovers and strong rebounding, currently have one of the better offenses in the Atlantic 10.

Defensively Duquesne is wreaking some bit of havoc thanks to the former Ram who leads the team in steals percentage at 4.2%. As a group they are a top-100 turnover and two-point defense, something that is sure to give the turnover prone Rams a test tonight.

Don't look now, but the Rams are playing some offense! That could however, have something to do with their recent opponents, all five of their recent wins coming against teams who rank around 200th or worse defensively, but still, as Ram fans it's like water after walking three straight days through the desert.

The biggest standout though in that time has been sophomore center, Jalen DeLoach. The Savannah native has risen is true shooting percentage to over 60% and is averaging 15 points per contest over his last six. He has nine or more rebounds in three of those contests and is quickly developing into one of the better big men in the Atlantic 10, one VCU's staff certainly knew he was capable of becoming when recruiting him to Broad St.

Another bright spot for VCU has been the progress of Michigan transfer, Zeb Jackson. The 6'5 combo guard is coming of a 14-point performance in which he carried VCU against La Salle early. He has four consecutive 100+ offensive rating games (that's great) and it appears a huge part of that is he seems to have learned his bills are payed inside the arc as opposed to outside of it.

Over his first five games of the season Jackson averaged 3.8 three-point attempts to 2.8 two-point attempts. These last five however, he is averaging 1.2 three-point attempts to 4.2 attempts inside the arc. He has a 55% true shooting percentage over those most recent five versus at 52.5% his first five. Not a massive jump, but every bit helps when it comes to the Rams making shots and scoring efficiently.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">DUQ 74.9, VCU 69.4</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 63.4, DUQ 70.1</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">DUQ 51%, VCU 49.9%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 46.5%, DUQ 49.3%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">DUQ 36.6%, VCU 31.8%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 32.9%, DUQ 35.7%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 51.1%, DUQ 48.6%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 45%, DUQ 47.1%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">DUQ 37.4, VCU 33</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">DUQ 16.9%, VCU 22.2%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 25.2%, DUQ 20.1%</span>

Shutting down the three-point line seems to be a pretty important piece of tonight's contest and something that feels critical to the Rams' chances of leaving Pittsburgh with a home win. In their four losses this year the Dukes shot 26.95% (v Kentucky), 16% (v New Mexico State), 23.8% (v Dayton) from three in three of them, then in the other, an 82-71 home defeat to Marshall, they hit 38.7% from distance, but just 31% inside the arc. So three out of four losses involved bad three-point shooting, which makes that something I'll be watching tonight.

After that it's the turnover margin I'll most be paying attention to. So far this season Duquesne has done a nice job of not handing the ball over to their opponents, ranking 60th nationally in turnover percentage offense while also checking in within the top-100 in TO% D. It's always helpful when you get more shot attempts than your opponent via a high turnover margin and with VCU's struggles there offensively, effectively canceling out their 8th-ranked turnover defense, there's definitely a decent chance of Duquesne making the best use out of their havoc in tonight's contest.

Shut down the three on defense, value the rock on offense (and take smart shots by keeping the ball hot) and VCU can move to 2-0 while getting a little metrics boost in the process.

Kenpom: 70-67 VCU loss with a 40% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 7PM at the Cooper Fieldhouse in Pittsburgh, PA

Watch: ESPN+

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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