Game Preview: VCU at Rhode Island [INSIDER]

VCU heads to Rhode Island Friday night looking to snap a two-game losing skid to the northern Rams while attempting to keep within arms reach of first place Dayton. Rhode Island stole a victory at the Siegel Center on January 11, limiting the black and gold to just 56 points in the convincing win and will hope to do the same in front of what is sure to be a packed house in Kingston. A win would be a nice NCAA at-large resume-builder for whoever ends up on the right side of tonight's contest after what's sure to be a 40-minute battle.

VCU (16-5, 6-2)
RHODE ISLAND (15-5, 7-1)[/HEADING=3]

In short, Rhode Island is a bit of a VCU clone, but one that employs a shorter bench. While VCU ranks 96th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency at 106.3, Rhody ranks 93rd at 106.4. VCU ranks 21st nationally on the defensive side of the ball at 91.1. Rhody ranks 35th at 93.1. The black and gold are fifth in A-10 offensive efficiency. Rhody is fifth. VCU tops the conference in A-10 defense. Rhody is No.2.

These teams are twins.

What separates the two is how they get to those numbers. VCU uses their "army" approach, ranking 43rd nationally in bench minutes played, whereas Rhode Island just lightly dips into their bench, ranking 317th nationally in bench minutes played.

Rhode Island goes 6'6, 6'7 and 6'8 in the front court with Georgetown transfer Antwon Walker seizing some of previous starting 4 Jermaine Harris' minutes (either way a bit of a traditional two-big look). VCU goes 6'6, 6'5 and 6'7 with the 6'5 Mike'L Simms giving VCU more of a small ball approach.

Rhody has struggled to shoot on the season (256th nationally in effective field goal percentage), but helps themselves out by limiting turnovers (37th nationally) and attacking the glass for second-chance points.

Fatts Russell leads the Rams at 19.7 points per game, one of three double-digit scorers alongside Jeff Dowton (13.9 ppg) who seems to always have a good game against VCU, scoring team-highs in both of the last two meetings between these two teams.

Rhody's defense butters the team's bread, with offensive efficiency (like VCU), being more of a bonus most of the time. The Rams shot below 31% from three in four of the team's five losses this season, including a puzzling road loss to kenpom No.229 Brown.

A QUICK LOOK AT VCU[/HEADING=3] readers either love that I'm sounding this alarm or absolutely are sick of me doing so, but here's what in my opinion is the key to VCU's remaining season:

During VCU's current four-game win streak the Rams have played more traditional two-big lineups than they had previously this season (actually starting a two-big group the second half in VCU's win over Richmond), most likely due to slowly bringing around talented, but raw freshman, Hasan Ward. The results have been eye-opening.

In 44:07 of playing two bigs at once, VCU has outscored their last four opponents by a combined 56 points. That's 1.3 points per minute, which over a 40-minute game results in a 50-point win. I repeat: A 50-POINT WIN. How many of those have you seen in your time watching VCU basketball? Against those same opponents, VCU outscored them by a total of just 15 points the remaining 115:53 of play, or 0.1 points per minute, which over a 40-minute game results in a 5-point win.

So in essence we've seen two very different VCU teams within one team against a four-team sample. One team (the double-big group) has mauled their opponents and looked essentially like Kansas playing MEAC squads. The other (VCU's traditional small ball group) has looked like an average Atlantic 10 team, essentially just BARELY outscoring a four-team group with an average kenpom ranking of 155.

Which team are you putting your money on?

Tonight's matchup against a traditional big Rhody group who can't shoot the three and takes 46% of their shots AT THE RIM, looks like the best possible place to see if that trend can continue. The Rams played two bigs against Rhode Island in their early season loss for just 19 seconds of play in the 9-point loss.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 74.2, VCU 72.7</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 62.4, URI 68.3</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 50.2%, URI 47.4%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 45.9%, URI 46.4%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 35.4%, URI 31.8%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 29.3%, VCU 32.1%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 48.4%, URI 47.3%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 44.7%, URI 47.9%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 39.5, VCU 35</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 16.7%, VCU 18.1%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 25.4%, URI 21.2%</span>

When VCU is hitting threes they are a terrifying opponent to face. I think if the Rams can hit shots and convincingly win the battle from deep (10% or better than Rhody from long range) and employs the two-big lineup to make life difficult for Rhode Island's two-point dependent offense (Ward at +9.2, Douglas at +7 and MSS at +4.7 rank 1, 2 and 4 in defensive box plus/minus and 1, 2 and 3 in blocks percentage), The Rams make a statement and leave Kingston not only in better A-10 position, but with a crucial road victory their at-large resume would love.

Kenpom: 70-68 VCU loss with an 42% chance of a VCU victory.

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

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Mat Shelton-Eide
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