Game Preview: VCU at Memphis

VCU faces their toughest test of the young season today and currently on paper, the toughest they'll face all year, when visiting the Memphis Tigers at 5PM. The two last met in South Dakota two years ago, a surprise 70-59 Rams win despite an off shooting night from talented sophomore guard, Bones Hyland (1-7 from distance). This year's transfer-heavy Tigers squad is almost completely unrecognizable from the one that VCU team faced and is looking to get back to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. To do so however, they'll hope to not add a two-game losing streak to the Atlantic 10 to their resume, while the Rams are hoping to pick up their first good win of the season.

VCU (3-1)

Picked to finish second behind the no-brainer No.1 choice, Houston Cougars, in this year's American Athletic Conference preseason poll, expectations are once again high for Penny Hardaway's Tigers. Memphis brings the seventh most experienced team into the season with five senior starters getting the nod in their recent contest against Saint Louis, having three more come off the bench, two playing double-digit minutes.

Last year's Tigers were efficient on both sides of the ball, but like VCU, were extremely turnover prone (ranking 351st nationally in turnover percentage offense). They are off to a good start in improving that blemish through two contests this season, averaging just 11.5 so far.

Returner DeAndre Williams (third seasons with Memphis after starting his career at Evansville where he was absolutely electric) currently leads the team at 19 points per game in his 31 mpg on the floor. Williams is an insanely 6'9 scorer who did not play in the matchup with the Rams two years ago. He's joined by SMU transfer, Kendric Davis (6' PG), last year's AAC player of the year who averaged over 19 points the past two seasons as a scoring monster and a great distributor. Davis led the nation in 2021 with an assist rate of 46.4%, making him one of, if not THE best point guard VCU will face all season and doing so without the services of their starting point guard, Ace Baldwin, in the lineup.

The Tigers are currently going about nine deep, meaning they'll have the horses to run with the Rams for 40 minutes. They also currently play a faster tempo than the black and gold, so it's the Rams who may ultimately struggled to keep up in tonight's contest.

One new wrinkle through two games at least is the amount of threes the Tigers are shooting. Last year's Memphis team took 30.4% from beyond the arc while through two games this year's squad has seen over 40% come from deep. You can credit the addition of Davis for that early, the former Mustang averaging 6.5 attempts from deep through his first two games as a Tiger.

The Rams limped through Brooklyn to a 1-1 Legends Classic finish, seeing a game they led Arizona State for the majority of the contest slip away, then almost doing the same against Pittsburgh before escaping late to claim a W over former Rams head coach, Jeff Capel. Extreme scoring droughts could be blamed for that performance, with three-point shooting being a huge part of the problem.

The Rams shot below 28% from distance in both games, but kept things close in both by holding their opponent to even worse percentages. No Ace Baldwin in the lineup (41.3% from 3 last season) is going to do that to a team, both with his shooting and his ability as a top tier point guard to find other players for open looks. Key players Jayden Nunn and Brandon Johnson combining for 2-12 from distance with Zeb Jackson stepping into a larger role in Baldwin's absence, going 1-7 from three (so 3-19 from the group). They say shooters are either hot or they are due, so Rhoades and Co. will hope the later proves true today at Memphis.

Defensively it's hard to have any real issues with how the Rams have played. VCU is turning teams over at a high rate, defending well in the half court when they aren't turning teams over and so far are doing a better job of grabbing defensive rebounds than they did this past year. They are also (so far, knock on wood), doing a better job of limiting fouls.

Ultimately the Rams ceiling -- and perhaps the result tonight -- will be determined by their ability to figure things out on offense. Rhoades and Co. have never, I repeat...NEVER...had a top-100 offense during their six seasons so far at VCU (currently ranked 190th in adjusted offensive efficiency), their highest ranking coming in 2021 at 122nd nationally with not one, but two future NBA players (Bones Hyland and Vince Williams) on the roster. Both Will Wade teams had top-100 offenses. Shaka Smart's groups had top-100 offenses five out of their six years (yes, that includes time with Rhoades as an assistant), two of Anthony Grant's three VCU teams were top-100 on O and even Jeff Capel, yes JEFF CAPEL, managed to crack the top-100 on offense. Most of those groups had CAA recruits on the roster and didn't have the benefits of a post-Final 4 recruiting advantage or multimillion dollar practice facility to bring recruits to.

To me this is a bit of a microscope season for Rhoades on that side of the ball. I've heard a slew of people talk about how this is one of the deepest and most talented rosters we've had at VCU and heck, I know I've even said it myself. If that's the case, is it too much to ask of this coaching staff -- which to their credit, brought these dudes in AND have been on of the best DEFENSIVE coaching groups the last six years in college hoops -- to figure out a way to bring some offensive efficiency to VCU? Tonight would be a great time to start. If not, that 10-point Memphis favorite betting line could have ended up looking generous toward the Rams come about 7PM when 40 minutes of play is up.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">MEM 80, VCU 68</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 60, MEM 78.5</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">MEM 50.4%, VCU 48.5%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 44.3%, MEM 52.2%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 31%, MEM 28%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 26.7%, MEM 38%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">MEM 56.2%, VCU 50%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 46.5%, MEM 48.5%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">MEM 37, VCU 35</span>
Turnover% Offense:<span style="color: #ff0000;"> MEM 15.9%, VCU 23.9%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 27.1%, MEM 16.6%</span>


Two seasons ago the Rams did their normal thing and really locked down defensively on Memphis in a 70-59 win. While their 28% three-point shooting on 25 attempts wasn't optimal, they ended up finishing over 60% of their shots inside the arc AND...added 21 more points at the free throw stripe on 77.8% shooting from the line for a helpful 58.5% true shooting percentage in the win.

When you defend like VCU does, 58.5% true shooting percentages can win you most of your games. Compare that with a 50.1% true shooting percentage against Arizona State and you know what the Rams need tonight.

Kenpom: 75-65 VCU loss with a 17% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 5PM at the FedExForum in Memphis, TN

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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