Game Preview: Rams hoping to avoid slip-up against struggling Rhode Island

The black and gold head to Kingston, Rhode Island tonight to take on a rebuilding Keaney blue Rams squad under new head coach and familiar face, Archie Miller. Rhody has just one more win (4) in conference action than A-10 cellar dweller, Loyola, but somehow found a way to defeat Dayton (and St. Bonaventure, plus a surprising Fordham squad), making them the classic banana peel game for VCU heading into the home stretch of regular season action.

VCU RAMS (18-7, 9-3)

Archie Miller found great success in his time at Dayton before leaving for Indiana, but after four "not good enough" years with the Hoosiers, has made his way back to the Atlantic 10 where he looks to clean up the mess left by departing Head Coach, David Cox.

It's been a slow start at that and things may get even tougher down the stretch.

Miller inherited a pretty thing roster when taking over this offseason and as of this week, as thinned it out even more with the dismissal of starting point guard and second-leading scorer, Brayon Freeman. The details of the dismissal weren't made public, but with Freeman's departure the Rams say goodbye to 13.5 points per contest out of Freeman, as well as a team-leading (surprisingly) 2.8 assists, 1.1 steals and their second highest-ranked player in total box plus minus, not to mention one of just four players in the positive at +1.5. Freeman will see his role assumed by backup, Sebastian Thomas, a Providence native with a rough 9.2 player efficiency rating (that ain't good), -2.7 box +/-, 42.4% true shooting percentage and a turnover rate almost 10% higher than that of Freeman.

Needless to say, taking over as point guard against the nation's fifth-best turnover defense in VCU is being completely thrown into the fire. Interested to see how that plays out tonight for Miller and Co.

Thomas takes over a URI offense that ranks 270th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, 316th in turnover percentage and 352nd in effective field goal percentage. Hey now! The Rams rank dead last in offensive efficiency in conference play as well and outside of free throw rate (ranks 1st in the A-10) haven't done really anything well on that side of the ball and that was WITH Freeman. Miller will have to hope there's some addition by subtraction at play tonight.

Defensively Rhody ranks 10th in the A-10 and on the year has been solid at No.151 nationally and losing Freeman shouldn't really effect that with Thomas being a statistically better defender. In A-10 action Rhody has been the second best team at defending inside the arc, something that will be challenged tonight against a VCU team that loves to attack the basket.

VCU dropped a close one at home against Dayton, 62-58, a missed opportunity thanks to a trend of bad three-point shooting the Rams are hoping they'll shake as we quickly approach March. VCU hit just 21.1% from deep in the loss, which combined with a 50% night from the free throw stripe was an absolute backbreaker.

21.1% v Dayton (L)
23.5% at SLU (W)
0% at Davidson (W)
12.5% v St. Bonaventure (L)

The Rams last shot over 30% from deep against George Mason (38.9%) on January 25th, a 20-point win that shows you how insanely dangerous the Rams can be win they hit the long ball. VCU is shooting 36.1% from distance in A-10 action and have shot over 40% a number of times this season including a ridiculous 62.5% in a win against Davidson, one of six double-digit VCU wins in conference play.

A huge part of those struggles is the three-point shooting cool down of sophomore Jayden Nunn. The Michigan native is a career 36% three-point shooter, but is a combined 3-20 of VCU's last five games (15%). Transfer forward, David Shriver, has also seen struggles after going nuclear to start A-10 play. The Hartford import is 1-9 over VCU's last four and constantly finds himself face-guarded after two 6-8 nights from distance in huge wins over Dayton and Davidson.

Still, you just know eventually those shots fall and when they do, some poor team (Rhody tonight?) may run into one of the Atlantic 10's most dangerous teams, a team that can flat out embarrass you when they care clicking.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 70, URI 67</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 63.2, URI 70.2</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 51.1%, URI 44.8%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 47.8%, URI 48.5%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 33.3%, URI 30.5%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 32.9%, VCU 33.4%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 51.6%, URI 44.4%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 46.6%, URI 48.1%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 37.6, VCU 32.7</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 20.8%, URI 20.8%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 24.8%, URI 17.6%</span>

The obvious answer really is turnovers. How does Sebastian Thomas handle full-time point guard duties?

Well, in the one game Brayon Freeman previously missed, the sophomore dished 10 assists to just two turnovers in a 10-point win over Stony Brook. The Seawolves however, are the sixth worst turnover defense in the nation whereas VCU is the fifth best, so there is potential for a completely different experience tonight. Thomas has turned the ball over 27.7% of possessions in A-10 action including three in just nine minutes against George Mason this past weekend. So that's the first thing to watch really.

Obviously VCU's ability to hit shots is really the other. They say shooters are either hot or they are due and VCU certainly isn't hot, so it will be interested if the four-game cold streak from distance ends tonight at the Ryan Center. Either way, the Rams aren't really a three-point dependent team, so just finding the right shots while defending like we've come to expect and VCU can continue to push the pace in the A-10 race for first place.

Kenpom: 70-64 VCU win with a 71% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 7PM at the Ryan Center in Kingston, RI

Watch: MASN

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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