Game Preview: VCU at Richmond

[caption id="attachment_12354" align="alignright" width="300"]<a href=""><img class="size-medium wp-image-12354" alt="Briante Weber became VCU's all-time steals leader in the Rams' win over Richmond earlier this season, he'll look to add to that tonight at the Robins Center." src="" width="300" height="185" /></a> Briante Weber became VCU's all-time steals leader in the Rams' win over Richmond earlier this season, he'll look to add to that tonight at the Robins Center.[/caption]

VCU heads to UofR tonight in a rare 9PM tip to try and complete the regular season sweep of the Spiders at the Robins Center. The Rams defeated Richmond 81-70 in their last matchup, but against a different version of the Spiders that featured senior starters Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams, both of whom are no longer active. Lindsay and his team-leading 18.3 points per game were sidelined permanently due to injury while the struggling Williams ended his career for personal reasons. The Spiders have seen mixed results since their departures, blasting the likes of Duquesne, Fordham and LaSalle, sneaking past St. Bonaventure, and losing at home to GW by double-digits then most recently on the road at George Mason (69-60) and Rhode Island (66-43), having trailed in both games by more than 20 points. VCU on the other hand is riding a two-game winning streak that includes a road blowout of Fordham followed by an 11-point home win over the then No.10 SLU Billikens.

VCU (22-7, 10-4)
Richmond (18-11, 8-6)[/HEADING=3]

Richmond's senior losses seems to have taken their toll as of late, as the Spiders most likely played themselves right off the NCAA tournament bubble with losses at Mason and Rhode Island. In those two the Spiders shot a combined 29.4% from the field that included a 2-20 performance against Rhode Island by new leading scorer Kendall Anthony. Freshman ShawnDre' Jones has seen his minutes double since the Lindsay injury but after a hot start where he averaged 15 points over a five-game span came back down to Earth in his last two, posting 8ppg on 5-23 shooting. Those shooting woes have hurt the Spiders all season, in particular from deep, as Richmond is connecting on 32.1% of their long range attempts, ranking 273rd nationally. UofR has two very capable bigs in Terry Allen and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa but finding consistency from both has been a problem. Allen (9.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) has proven to be the bigger offensive threat of the two while Nelson-Ododa (6 ppg, 5.1 rpg) anchors the team on defense, leading the Atlantic 10 with a 9.82% block percentage. Richmond will need both in the game in extended minutes this go-round as VCU was able to saddle the two with foul trouble in their last meeting, neither playing more than 22 minutes while combining for just five points on 2-6 shooting in the VCU win.

The Rams are looking for a solid road win after losing three of their last four away from the Siegel Center, all to teams in the top five of the current conference standings. VCU has been consistent in that they've held serve at the Siegel Center while being competitive on the road, but unfortunately coming up short in four of their five road games against the top half of the league. The Rams have faced sellout crowds in all of those losses and will face yet another one in the Robins Center tonight. Question is, how many of those seats will be covered in black and gold? The Robbins Center reduced seating capacity by over 2,000 seats, thus creating a potentially rowdier atmosphere for UofR while limiting VCU fans' access to tickets this season. Treveon Graham will look to lead the black in gold in that chaos. Coach Smart has made it a priority to get Graham shots early and often, as the junior is averaging 14 attempts per contest since these two last played, a number dragged down by a eight-attempt performance in just 17 minutes of play as the Rams cruised past Fordham. Graham has been joined by senior forward Juvonte Reddic as the two steady forces that have guided the black and gold through a tough A-10 schedule. Reddic has posted 11 consecutive double-digit scoring performances and is averaging 9.6 rebounds in conference play. On defense the Rams have risen to fifth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency due to leading the country in steals and turnover percentages while holding teams to just 29.6% three-point shooting, ranking 13th nationally in that category. They had just eight steals against the Spiders the last time they met and have forced just 11.6 Spider turnovers per game in the three games these two have faced off as A-10 conference foes. Increasing that number will be greatly beneficial to VCU tonight.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 75.9, UofR 67.9</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UofR 65.5, VCU 66</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UofR 48.6%, VCU 47.6%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UofR 45.7%, VCU 47.9%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 34.6%, UofR 32.1%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UofR 29.1%, VCU 29.6%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 37.8, UofR 32.6</span>
Turnover Percentage Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 25.9%, SLU 20.3%</span>
Turnover Percentage Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UofR 15.6%, 17.1%</span>

For starters, if Richmond shoots like they have in their last two contests they'll find it hard to beat just about anyone they face. The Rams held Richmond to 22 first half points in their last meeting before giving up 48 in the second. The Rams locked down on offense to start the game but gave up over 68% shooting inside the arc to the Spiders in the second half in the Siegel Center. VCU must play two full halves of defense against good teams on the road or they simply won't win. An effective havoc-filled night would work wonders as well. Richmond has been solid at holding on to the ball all season but face VCU for the first time in A-10 play without a senior point guard. Their limited depth due to the loss of Williams and Lindsay will be something worth watching as VCU is sure to push the pace all night.

I think one of the keys for Richmond tonight will be avoiding foul trouble. A foul-strapped lineup against a deep VCU team that wants to run for 40 minutes could spell disaster for the Spiders. Fouls are also a great way to neutralize a partisan crowd, so if any combination of Nelson-Ododa, Allen or Kendall Anthony are forced to sit early the Spiders could be in trouble against the Rams and their hockey style line changes. But obviously the biggest thing Richmond needs tonight is an improved stroke from the floor. The Spiders have been awful on offense in their last two losses, and those struggles came against teams ranked 10th and 12th in the A-10. Struggle to shoot like that tonight and VCU could burry Richmond on their own court. 68-64 VCU win with a 64% chance of victory.
Vegas: VCU 5.5-point favorite to win.

When: 9PM
Where: The Robins Center, Richmond, VA.
Watch: CBS Sports Network. Official watch parties at Baja Bean Co. in the Fan as well as Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Listen: <a title="FM 107.3" href="">107.3FM</a>
Live Tweets:¬†<a title="@VCURamNation" href="">@VCURamNation</a>​

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