Game Preview: VCU at Rhode Island [INSIDER]

[caption id="attachment_19643" align="alignright" width="300"]<a href=""><img class="size-medium wp-image-19643" src="" alt="" width="300" height="228" /></a> Mo Alie-Cox scored 21 points in just 22 minutes in a VCU blowout of Rhode Island last season in Richmond.[/caption]

The red-hot VCU Rams will tip it up against Rhode Island at 2PM Saturday in an ESPN contest with major NCAA tournament implications. For VCU it's an opportunity keep pace with Dayton in the race for an A-10 regular season title while also cementing what looks to be a solid NCAA tournament resume -- a road win today would essentially make VCU an NCAA tournament lock. For Rhody it's a must-win contest if Dan Hurley's squad is to have any shot of an at-large tournament bid, VCU representing their last regular season top-50 opportunity in what's been a somewhat disappointing regular season for the league's preseason No.2.

VCU (23-5, 13-2)
RHODE ISLAND (18-9, 10-5)[/HEADING=3]

Big, talented and with tons of preseason hype, this was supposed to be the year for Dan Hurley's Rhode Island Rams. But after an 8-4 non-conference start full of missed opportunities, the Rams find themselves with a disappointing 10-5 conference recrod that has URI closer to missing out on a top-four seed than actually winning a regular season title that seemed like a realistic goal on paper this offseason. Things would look a lot different had URI not dropped their last two home games in particular. After leading Dayton late, Rhody let the Flyers escape Kingston with a crucial win, then followed that up with a major letdown, failing to protect their home court with 54-43 letdown loss to Fordham that was an absolute killer. That tiny stretch of games would've made a huge difference for URI's postseason hopes, letting would would have been a top-50 win slip through their hands while also adding their worse loss of the season to their resume. The 43-point performance was the extreme version of what troubles this Keaney blue Rams team the most. Boasting a top-50 defense, Rhode Island has at times struggled offensively despite ranking in the top-80 nationally in offensive efficiency. Rhody was just 2-20 from distance in that loss to Fordham and now ranks 207th nationally in three-point offense. Like our black and gold Rams, that inconsistency from deep can at times hurt their team. URI shot under 30% from deep in five of their nine losses this season. Still, despite their disappointment with the results so far this remains a dangerous A-10 team, one capable of winning the conference tournament and potentially even doing some danger in the NCAA tournament thanks to a roster that physically resembles that of most high-major squads.

The Rams are off to their first 23-5 start in over three decades and with a win today would likely lock in their seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. VCU has gotten to this point by consistently attacking the basket, getting consistent production from the likes of bigs Justin Tillman and Mo Alie-Cox and become dangerous when more than just JeQuan Lewis gets involved in the backcourt. VCU has played a deep bench that has seen a 16-point average from backup point guard Jonathan Williams the last two games and an 11-point average from freshman Samir Doughty during this current nine-game streak. The Rams have won their last three A-10 road games, two basically by the grace of God, coming from behind to win with just 0.4 seconds to play in both of those contests. After a couple of narrow escapes, VCU has won their last four by an average margin of 12.3 ppg. Still, the Rams have yet to pick up a road W that would come close to equaling the quality of what's before them today, getting their first true road contest against an RPI top-50 team this season.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 75.5, URI 74.3</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #808080;">VCU 65.8, URI 65.8</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 52.6%, URI 50.5%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 45.6%, VCU 47%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 35.1%, URI 34.3%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 30.1%, VCU 33.7%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 52.6%, URI 50%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 45.3%, URI 45.9%</span>
Rebounds per game:<span style="color: #339966;"> VCU 37, URI 36.3</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 16.2%, VCU 19%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 21.5%, URI 20.3%</span>

These two teams are so evenly matched it's ridiculous (down to the mascot). The black and gold Rams win this game if they are able to win the battle of the paint while also limiting turnovers. One of Rhody's key advantages is they've done a better job on the season of not hurting themselves with turnovers, ranking 34th nationally in turnover percentage offense. The Rams will need to keep the turnover margin close while winning the battle of the bigs to escape Kingston with what would be a monster win for this year's VCU team.

I think a rock fight likely favors Rhody in this one due to home court advantage, so Rhode Island's ability to keep VCU from consistently scoring inside will go a long way toward a win today. When VCU gets going inside the arc they have an easier time quieting road crowds (Rams shot 60.5% inside the arc at Richmond), which can give the black and gold a road warrior confidence that URI fans don't want to see today. Rhody has the defense and the bodies to make VCU beat them from deep, which has been the key in defeating this year's VCU team. That however is something they DID NOT do against VCU last season, allowing the Rams to finish 26 of their 44 attempts inside the arc (59.1%) as Will Wade and Co. cruised to victory.

Kenpom: 70-60 VCU loss with an 40% chance of a VCU Rams victory.

Game tips at 2PM at the Ryan Center in Kingston, RI

Watch: ESPN2, Official game day headquarters are Baja Bean Co. in the Fan and Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
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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