Game Preview: VCU at Rhode Island [INSIDER]

VCU will look for their second conference road win of the season tonight when traveling to Kingston, Rhode Island for a date with the northern Rams in the Keaney Blue. The black and gold haven't defeated Rhode Island just about three years and saw their last two A-10 conference tournament journey's ended by URI. Payback time tonight?
<h4>VCU (13-5, 4-1)
RHODE ISLAND (10-7, 3-2)</h4>
<h4>A QUICK LOOK AT RHODE ISLAND</h4>
Rhode Island 2018-19 is very much in a similar position to VCU 2017-18. URI lost both their coach and a slew of talented seniors (four starters and a sixth man), setting up a similar rebuild to the one Mike Rhoades inherited following the departure of Will Wade to LSU. Rhody was a top-60 team in their final season under Dan Hurley, but has dipped to No.118 on kenpom as of this post. VCU finished No.48 in their final year under Wade before dipping to somewhat of a similar position at this point in the season in their first year under Rhoades (No.117 after their first five A-10 games).

Surprisingly, URI has actually maintained the level of defense they exhibited during last year's regular season championship year, holding opponents to just slightly fewer points per possession than last year's squad. The monster difference and reason URI has struggled somewhat however, is the Rams offense has taken a major leap backwards.

A top-70 offense this past season, URI graduated last year's two double-digit scorers -- both A-ll All-Conference selections -- and find themselves ranked 210th in adjusted offensive efficiency thanks largely to owning the nation's 347th ranked three-point offense. Rhody has very much struggled in the same areas as VCU (turnovers and threes), but haven't had quite the level of defense to bail them out.

Rhode Island is 1-2 this season against kenpom top-100 squads, winning a neutral court contest against a slightly down West Virginia team, 83-70, but dropped road contests at both Providence (by 9) and Saint Louis (by 7). They've dropped two home games this year, a disappointing 10-point non-conference L to Stony Brook and a brutal 17-point loss at the hands of George Mason 10 days ago.

Stat to watch: URI is shooting 26.8% from three on the year, but has shot over 33.3% in all but one of their A-10 games this season and shot over 38% in three of those contest. URI's sole terrible three-point shooting performance came in the loss to Mason, a 3-25 effort (12%). They've played two top-25 three-point defenses in the A-10: Mason and Saint Louis, both of whom held URI to under 34%. Rhody hit just 13% of their threes in a win over Brown, an Ivy League squad that ranks seventh nationally in three-point defense, 8.3% against Stony Brook (No.48 in three-point D) and 10% against Charleston (top-100 three-point D).
<h4>A QUICK LOOK AT VCU</h4>
The story of this season's VCU team is one of a surprisingly good defense. The Rams struggled a bit on that side of the ball in their first season under Mike Rhoades and Co., but a season later find themselves as the No.5 defense in all of college hoops. That has led to four top-100 wins and some battles that just as easily could've turned into wins against the likes of UVA and St. John's and has VCU currently in the best position to earn an at-large bid for this year's Atlantic 10. What has limited the Rams has been an inconsistent offense that produced fewer than 60 points in three of VCU's five losses on the season. The good news is, things might be looking up on that side of the ball.

VCU currently ranks 323rd nationally in three-point offense, just recently getting over the 30% hump from deep. That very slow rise has been thanks to an early A-10 showing that has the black and gold at second in conference three-point shooting at 34.8%.

VCU 3-point shooting in A-10 games
6-13 (46.2%) v UMass
9-19 (47.4%) v Dayton
4-24 (16.7%) at Davidson
5-17 (29.4%) v La Salle
7-16 (43.8%) at Fordham

VCU went 14-29 (48.3%) in their non-conference finale against Rider as well.

One stat I find particularly interesting is the Rams' shot selection in conference play. VCU has shot 20 or more threes in just one of their A-10 games, which happened to be their only loss in conference. In ALL of VCU's non-conference games, the Rams shot 20 or more threes.

More selective three-point shooting seems to be paying off early in-conference for the black and gold.

TALE OF THE TAPE[/HEADING=3]
Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 71.1, VCU 69.4</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 62.6, URI 66.4</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 48.5%, URI 47.4%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 42.2%, URI 46.7%</span>

3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 30.2%, URI 26.8%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 26.8%, URI 30.6%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 51%, VCU 50.9%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 43.3%, URI 47.3%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 38.9, VCU 37.1</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 18.4%, VCU 20.9%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 23.5%, URI 20.4%</span>
<h4>VCU WINS IF</h4>
This is a bit of a mirror match between these two Rams teams, so it's the little things that will likely make the difference. Smart shot selection and limiting turnovers are a must for VCU against a strong URI defense. On the other side of the ball VCU needs to keep Rhody away from the hoop. URI hasn't been a good shooting team, but they have on the season attacked the basket a bit more than VCU, taking 39.% of of their attempts at the rim versus VCU's 34.1%. Protect the interior and force Fatts Russell and Co. to hit threes, something they've struggled to do with any bit of consistency, and VCU can pick up a crucial road win tonight.

Kenpom: 64-63 VCU win with a 55% chance of a VCU Rams victory.

Game tips at 7PM at the Ryan Center in Kingston, RI

Watch: CBS Sports Network
Listen: <a href="https://www.iheart.com/live/fox-sports-910-richmond-2461/?autoplay=true&amp;pname=1248&amp;campid=header&amp;cid=index.html">Fox Sports 910 AM &amp; 98.5 FM</a>
Live Tweets:¬†<a href="https://twitter.com/vcuramnation">@VCURamNation</a>​

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Natty
Licensed Virginia Realtor and part-time basketball writer. Co-founder of VCURamNation.com and A10Talk.com.
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Mat Shelton-Eide
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