Game Preview: VCU at ODU [INSIDER]

The Rams lead the all-time series between their old rival, 50-43, have won the last three meetings between these two, but head to Norfolk as a 3.5-point underdogs against Old Dominion tonight. The once bitter rivals have seen a little bit of that rivalry sizzle fade due to conference realignment and ODU's addition of football, but at stake remains a bit of bragging rights and a potential quality win just down 64 East.
<h4>VCU (5-1)
ODU (3-3)</h4>
Sixth-year ODU head coach Jeff Jones is looking to improve on last season's impressive 25-7 record but has hit some early non-conference bumps in the road heading into a tough matchup with what looks like an improved VCU team tonight. The Monarchs are 0-2 early against kenpom top-100 squads, a record that included a 15-point drubbing to fellow Atlantic 10 member, Saint Joseph's. OUD has split an odd two-game non-conference series with Northern Iowa (kenpom No.147), losing on a neutral court before exacting some revenge at home in the Ted, a 72-65 victory in what was ODU's highest scoring game of the season. That sorta highlights the identity of this team, which should be quite familiar to VCU fans. ODU is once again very much a grind-it-out, defense first, slow-paced rock fightin' team. Coming off a season in which they ranked 34th nationally in defensive efficiency ODU is back within the top-50. The Monarchs keep scores down by playing one of the slowest paces in NCAA basketball (340th nationally) and with that currently rank 12th nationally in points allowed per contest. Those 58.3 surrendered per contest however, is just under five less than their giving up per game. The Monarchs were a slow but efficient offensive unit last season, but have taken a bit of a dip on that side of the ball due to an inability to score efficiently inside the arc or draw fouls. The Monarchs thus far have very much lived by the three on the offensive side of the ball, taking 42.9% of their shots from beyond the arc but hitting just 34.4% of those shots. That reliance on the three is up almost 10% from last season. Chalk that change in strategy somewhat to the departures of the talented duo of Trey Porter (transferred to Nevada) and 2018 graduate, Brandon Stith. That change in personnel has shifted the majority of ODU's shots to the foursome of Ahmad Carver (19.2 ppg), BJ Stith (13.8 ppg), Xavier Green (7.2 ppg) and Marquis Godwin (5.3 ppg), a quartet that has taken more threes on the season (132) than twos (127). Defensively ODU has allowed next to nothing in the paint, ranking fourth nationally in two-point defense at 38.2% allowed per contest.
VCU has dropped an OT game and won an OT game in this last two-game stretch, both against quality teams from the state of New York that were led by high-scoring guards. Battles against St. John's Shamorie Ponds and Hofstra's Justin Wright-Foreman will have no doubt prepared the Rams for another matchup with Ahmad Carver, a senior guard who dropped 14 on VCU in their meeting last season at the Stu. Two positives from the Rams OT win were an improved offensive turnover rate (a season-low 13 turnovers) and the Ram's ability to limit the Pride from three (28.6%). Only two teams have shot above 30% against VCU from three this season, but both held below 34%. While Marcus Evans has received much of the offseason hype heading into the season, it's perhaps the elevation of Issac Vann's game that has played the biggest key in propelling VCU to their 5-1 start. Vann has boosted his player efficiency rating from 12.9 as a sophomore at VCU up to an impressive 20.9 as a junior, thanks mostly to a vastly improved assist to turnover rate and other small improvements across the board. Vann has also earned the role of VCU's lockdown guard, drawing assignments against each opposing team's best offensive guard. His +5.6 defensive box plus minus ranks fourth on the teams behind the big man trio of Core Douglas (+12.9), Michael Gilmore (+8.5) and Marcus Santos-Silva (+6.9). Evans addition has been a boost mostly in clutch moments for the Rams, hitting essentially game-winning shots against both Temple and Hofstra. His ability to improve his three-point percentage from his current 25% back near his career rate heading into VCU (35%), could be a game-changer for the black and gold. Evans down year from distance highlights what's been a team struggle for the black and gold this season as the Rams currently rank 302nd nationally in 3p%. While that's been a blemish it's VCU's offensive turnover rate that's been the real handicap. The Rams 23.3% offensive turnover rate is the worst on Broad St. since 2004's 23.7%. Coincidentally, that VCU team won that year's CAA tournament and defeated ODU three times on the season.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 70.3, ODU 62.8</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">ODU 58.3, VCU 63.3</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 48%, ODU 45.7%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 39.6%, ODU 44%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%:<span style="color: #ff0000;"> ODU 34.4%, VCU 28.8%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 24.6%, ODU 35.5%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 51.8%, ODU 41.3%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">ODU 38.2%VCU 41.5%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">ODU 39.7, VCU 39.5</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">ODU 15.6%, VCU 23.3%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 23.7%, ODU 18.7%</span>
<h4>VCU WINS IF</h4>
I think a fairly clean turnover sheet and the Rams ability to hit their threes are how the black and gold pulls this one out. The Rams really must value the ball in a potential low-possession count game like this and I think, like St. Joe's in their blowout win of the 'Narchs, has to get the threes falling. 757 native, Marcus Evans, has connected on just one of his last 13 three-point attempts over VCU's two previous games. I think his 3p% regresses to the mean somewhat tonight, which could help VCU get enough offense to pull out what would be a Vegas upset in Norfolk this evening.

Kenpom: 65-61 VCU loss with a 36% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 7PM at the Ted Constant Center in Norfolk, VA

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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