Game Preview: VCU at Richmond [INSIDER]

VCU visits crosstown rival Richmond today in what is as close to a must-win game as one could imagine in terms of top-4 seeds in this year's A-10 tournament. The Rams downed the Spiders 87-68 in their first meeting this season at the Siegel Center. A season sweep would give the black and gold the head-to-head tie-break advantage over Richmond to go along with the one they currently own against St. Bonaventure, two teams VCU is jockeying position with coming down the homestretch of conference play.

<h4>VCU (17-7, 7-4)
RICHMOND (18-6, 8-3)</h4>
Since losing to VCU, Richmond has gone on a three-game winning streak, but against teams you'd expect them to make somewhat easy work of. The Spiders dominated GW by 22 points before surprisingly having to survive at Fordham 59-53 in a game they trailed in the second half, then most recently destroying La Salle in Philadelphia, 74-47.

Richmond limited each opponent to under 60 points and currently has the A-10's second best conference defense behind Rhody, just one spot ahead of VCU.

Two of those wins came with the services of Wagner transfer, Blake Francis, the Spiders leading scorer at 17.4 points per game. Francis missed Richmond's last contest against the Rams. He's hitting 37.4% of his threes at Richmond, which is actually down from his two 41% finishes his first two seasons at Wagner.

Francis is one of two breakout stars for Richmond, joining promising freshman big, Tyler Burton. Burton scored just one point in seven minutes of action against the black and gold in their previous meeting, but is averaging 10.7 points over his last three contests since in just 16.7 minutes of play.

Richmond struggled from distance in their last meeting against VCU, hitting just three of their 14 attempts from deep, but finished 50% of their shots inside the arc and converted 21 of their 25 free throw attempts for a still solid 54% true shooting percentage. Richmond gave up 47.6% shooting from deep in their previous loss to VCU, the Rams' best three-point shooting night of the conference season.

On the season Richmond has been one of the better offenses in the country nationally, ranking 60th in adjusted offensive efficiency thanks to the nation's 29th best effective field goal percentage.

Defensively the Spiders rank 71st nationally.

VCU is coming off their worst performance in about two years, getting dominated at home by a mediocre/bad George Mason team, a game the Rams trailed by 15 points in the second half. Mason destroyed VCU on the glass in that one, outrebounding VCU 48-27 despite ranking 226th nationally in defensive rebound percentage and hit 40% of their threes in the Patriots win.

It was one of the least VCU VCU performances of the season and has put the Rams' backs against the wall in terms of locking up a top-10 A-10 finish despite being picked to win the A-10 in the preseason (and actually winning it last year at 16-2).

Fouls have killed the Rams in conference on both sides of the ball. The Rams rank 10th in the A-10 in offensive free throw rate and dead last on D. They were outscored by six at the stripe against Mason in the 5-point loss, by 16 at Rhody the loss before that, by 10 at Dayton the loss before that, by 11 against Rhody the loss before get the point.

VCU's ability to defend without fouling in conference has been non-existent and is a huge reason the Rams sit outside the top-4 and looking in.

Marcus Evans will be a game-time decision for today's contest after banging his knee in the loss at Mason. The senior point guard had put together two of his most efficient performances in A-10 play prior to the Mason contest where he posted a career-worst 19 offensive rating. Freshman Tre Clark would likely backup classmate Bones Hyland if Evans can't go, with Malik Crowfield likely grabbing some point guard minutes as well.

Key Stat

This week following the Mason loss I asked VCU legend, Eric Maynor, what the Rams need to do to turn it around. his response was simple: "Best players need to be best players".

VCU starters Marcus Santos-Silva, Mike'L Simms, Marcus Evans and Issac Vann rank seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth on this year's team in overall box plus/minus with Evans, Vann and Simms ranking eighth or worse in player efficiency ranking as well. That has to be an extremely frustrating development for head coach Mike Rhoades who saw the same group lead him to a 16-2 A-10 regular season title last season. It's almost impossible to go away from a senior group that has brought you that type of success, but riding out the cold streaks have helped put VCU where they are this season as well.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UR 75, VCU 72.6</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 63.8, UR 67.5</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UR 53.5%, VCU 50.3%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 46.4%, UR 47.9%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 35.4%, UR 36%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UR 30.5%, VCU 32.4%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UR 53.1%, VCU 48.6%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 45.3%, UR 49.5%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 33.9, UR 33.8</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UR 15.5%, VCU 17.5%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 25.5%, UR 20%</span>

The Rams need to be PISSED about the fact Richmond has earned a better conference defensive efficiency rating than themselves and come out playing ELITE defense today. That's how you beat this really impressive offense at the Robins Center and is pretty much the only way I see VCU winning this game they'll be the underdog in today. DEFEND.

Kenpom: 71-69 VCU loss with a 41% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 4PM at the Robins Center Center in Richmond, VA

Watch: CBS Sports Network

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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