Game Preview: Rams hoping to wreak havoc on turnover prone Ramblers

VCU makes their first trip to Chicago this year with a matchup at A-10 newcomer, Loyola Chicago. While the conference is new to Rambler fans, so apparently is the losing, as Loyola find themselves at 6-9 right now with an 0-3 start in their new Atlantic 10 conference home. Can they break that streak when VCU comes to town or will the Rams pick up their first road win of the season?

VCU RAMS (11-5, 2-1)

Like VCU, Loyola essentially punched their ticket into the A-10 via a surprise Final 4 appearance, as well as some recent sustained success. Former Ramblers head coach (now with Oklahoma), Porter Moser, led Loyola to a 2018 Final 4, then in his final season in the Windy City, took his team back to another Sweet 16. Moser parlayed that success into a P5 gig, handing the keys to assistant, Drew Valentine, who in his first year finished 29th nationally on kenpom and danced as a 10 seed this past season after winning the Missouri Valley Conference in their last season in it. But that experienced group (26th most experienced team nationally) unfortunately could not play at Loyola forever, and with the departure of a number of key pieces, the Ramblers find themselves in the midst of a rebuild and doing so after stepping up a step in conference strength.

All eight of Loyola's losses this past season came against top-100 teams, three of those within the top-50, but with nine top-100 wins to balance things out. This year are 1-3 against the top-100, but have also added six losses outside of that including home losses to the likes of DePaul (kenpom No.144) and GW (No.188), with their worst loss coming on a neutral court against No.244 19 points.

So what's the drastic difference between last year and this year?

Well, for one just a slew of new faces. Loyola has gone from the 26th-most experienced team to the 176th. This new batch of Ramblers have seen the program go from a top-20 defense to outside of the top-200. They were a top-75 offense, but thanks to the nation's 357th-ranked turnover offense (that's considerably worse than VCU!), they check in at No.185 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.

That said, they do do one thing extremely well, which is finish buckets inside the arc. Loyola currently ranks 10th nationally in two-point percentage offense, which has them 33rd nationally in effective field goal percentage. 6'8 center, Tom Welch, is a massive part of that, finishing 85% of his attempts inside the arc for a 78.3% effective field goal percentage, both tops in the nation.

The Ramblers' entire starting group is solid at connected beyond the arc as well, making this an offense capable of big things when they aren't turning the ball over (sound familiar?).

But outside of that, things get ugly. Loyola has been a mediocre to bad rebounding team, fouls a ton while not drawing fouls on the other end and again, just absolutely kill themselves with the turnovers.

You're familiar with these guys by now, their strengths and weakness, the things you love and the things they do that drive you crazy, but here's a quick did you know: VCU ranks fourth in the Atlantic 10 in true shooting percentage, an advanced analytic that takes into account the fact that threes are worth more than twos and that a missed shot that turns into two made free throws is effectively not a missed shot, but a made one (sorta). FOURTH. VCU's offense has driven people nuts all season, but statistically, does is not surprise you that the Rams ranking ahead in that stat over the likes of Dayton, Saint Louis, Duquesne, Richmond, etc???

The Rams are averaging over 80 points their last five games, have a solid 51.2% effective field goal percentage, but have an extremely underrated 47.4% free throw rate that ranks THIRD NATIONALLY and not only helps VCU get to the stripe for easy points (where the Rams are shooting 70.8% on the season), but penalizes the other team in doing so.

What drags VCU's offense down is the nation's 333rd-ranked turnover offense and a lack of second-chance points through limited offensive rebounds. The Rams have been a good bit better with the turnovers as of late, leaving the rebound issue as perhaps a huge missing link to getting this offense top-100 caliber.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 70.7, LOY 68.7</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 64.9, LOY 71.6</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">LOY 54.2%, VCU 51.2%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 47.6%, LOY 50.7%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 34.5%, LOY 33.3%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 32.3%, LOY 33.3%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">LOY 57.1%, VCU 50.9%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 46.4%, LOY 46.4%</span>
Rebounds per game:<span style="color: #ff0000;"> LOY 32.7, VCU 32.3</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 22%, LOY 24%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 25%, LOY 18.3%</span>

If havoc travels.

The eighth-ranked turnover defense in the land visits Chicago to take on the seventh worst turnover offense in the country. On paper that is as great of a mismatch in that stat as you are likely to see all season and one massively in the favor of the black and gold.

Loyola turnover count versus top-100 turnover defenses (turnover % defense rank)
18 v Fairleigh Dickinson at 22.2% rate (No.49)
15 v Illinois Chicago at 34.7% rate (No.57)
27 v Texas A&amp;M at 42.9% rate (No.26)
12 v Stanford at 17.6% rate (No.90)

You can see how the better teams in terms of turnover defenses really made life miserable for Loyola Chicago, so with eighth-ranked VCU coming to tonight, it feels like a storm is rolling into town.

Kenpom: 68-66 VCU win with a 44% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 7PM at Gentile Arena in Chicago, IL

Watch: CBS Sports Network

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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