Game Preview: VCU at Northern Iowa

<a href=""><img class="alignright size-medium wp-image-12059" alt="VCU at Belmont. ©MARTY ALLISON" src="" width="300" height="235" /></a>VCU looks to stay hot in chilly Cedar Falls as the Rams take on Northern Iowa in a rare noon tip for the black and gold. Coach Smart's squad have won four straight and remain undefeated in the continental United States, but will be challenged by a Panthers team looking for their second win of the season against an A-10 team, having defeated the Explorers of La Salle already this year. VCU won the last matchup between the two, defeating UNI 77-68 at the Siegel Center as a part of the 2012 BracketBusters lineup.

VCU (8-2)<br />
UNI (4-5)[/HEADING=3]

The Panthers have shown flashes but haven't been the dangerous Northern Iowa team college hoops fans have grown accustomed to over the last few seasons. A game after nearly upsetting No.17 Iowa State UNI trailed at home to a bad Savannah State team before eeking out a 55-50 win in their only D1 home game of the season. While they boast a win over a disappointing but talented La Salle team, they also have losses at Ohio, George Mason and Milwaukee (all sub-100 kenpom teams). The previously deadly three-point shooting Panthers have struggled from distance this season, hitting just 29.6% of their threes (293rd nationally), the first time they have failed to hit over 30% in over a decade and far worse than the 2011-12 team the Rams last faced who hit an impressive 38.2% (27th nationally) on the season. The Panthers rank 228th in team experience and are led by juniors Deon Mitchell and Seth Tuttle. Mitchell averages a team-high 13.8 points to go with 3.4 assists per contest and was a pest against the Rams in 2012, posting 18 points on 7-11 shooting while dishing six assists as a freshman. Nate Buss, a 6'9 junior, averages a third-best 11 points per game for UNI but has been especially dangerous of late, averaging 23 points in Northern Iowa's games against La Salle and Iowa State. Buss leads Northern Iowa in field goal percentage and three-point percentage so can score from anywhere on the floor. The Panthers have struggled on defense, giving up 75 or more points in six of their games as teams have been able to hit a high percentage of shots against Northern Iowa.

Ram fans are starting to learn this fresh-faced team that consists of eight new players. Treveon Graham has been Treveon Graham (direct deposit), averaging a team-best 16 points per game to go with 6.8 rebounds. And after a disappointing seven points and just four field goal attempts against EKU, the black and gold finally let the big dog eat by feeding Juvonte Reddic for a season-high 16 attempts for which he rewarded them with 12 makes and 24 points to go with 12 rebounds. The Rams will look to do more of that and hope to defend as well as they did in their last half of basketball in which they held ODU to just 17 points. The Rams will also look to start better than they have these last few, having trailed, and trailed big at times early, over their last four wins. VCU leads teams an average of 36.75-34 to start games over that period, and are finishing second halves with an average of a 37-28 second half score.

Scoring Offense: VCU 76.7, UNI 72.2<br />
Scoring Defense: VCU 67.1, UNI 70.9<br />
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 49.2%, UNI 49.4%<br />
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 50.4%, UNI 50.4%<br />
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 34.6%, UNI 29.6%<br />
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 32.1%, UNI 35.5%<br />
Rebounds per game: VCU 36.3, UNI 34.4<br />
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 27.3%, UNI 17.4%<br />
Turnover Percentage Offense: UNI 17.8%, VCU 19%

With so many new pieces it's not surprising that VCU hasn't always looked like the top-10 team their ranking once said they were. But the good news is even in the rough times the black and gold have won more often than not (8-2), and have won by double-digits no less (and heck, since when did we push the panic button after 4-point losses to Georgetown?). Somewhere inside the rough version of havoc we've seen lies a monster that is capable of simply running teams out of the building. The talent is there, it's all a matter of doing the little things a bit better. Despite a stable full of slashers and low post scorers the Rams are averaging just 47.8% shooting inside the arc (199th nationally), yet their adjusted offensive efficiency ranks 67th nationally. On the other end VCU is giving up 51.4% shooting in the paint, yet due to a high percentage of turnovers have an adjusted defensive efficiency of 93.6, which ranks 18th in all of college hoops. With experience comes added confidence, and with both of those comes more efficient offenses and defenses. In order to get past a tricky UNI squad the Rams simply need to continue to respect the process and keep taking steps forward. Too broad of a "VCU WINS IF"? Perhaps. But I believe VCU's biggest opponent at times is VCU. The Rams are simply too talented to not be playing at an elite level. Once it all comes together, look out.
UNI will feed off the crowd in their first big home game of the season, all-be-it in an 11AM tip, Cedar Falls time. They'll look to get another Iowa State type of performance but will need to finish in order to get their first quality win of the season. If you don't finish, you simply won't beat VCU. The Rams have stumbled out of the gate throughout the start of this season but have gradually worn opponents down until before you know it the score reflects a 21-point VCU advantage, seemingly out of nowhere. As always, UNI will look to do what they have done best this season in attacking the basket, coincidentally the Rams major weakness thus far. On defense UNI would be wise to limit Reddic and Graham's effectiveness in the paint (be it with zone looks or double-teams), forcing VCU's guards to beat them from deep.
Watch: ESPNU. Official watch parties at Baja Bean Co. in the Fan as well as Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.<br />
Listen: <a title="FM 107.3" href="">107.3FM</a><br />
Live Tweets: <a title="@VCURamNation" href="">@VCURamNation</a>

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Mat Shelton-Eide
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