Game Preview: VCU at Wichita State [INSIDER]

The Rams return to Wichita State for the first time since February 18 of 2011 -- what was then a huge last-second road win thanks to two Joey Rodriguez game-winning free throws -- and like back in '11, see before them a gigantic resume-boosting opportunity when taking on the 9-1 Shockers of the American Athletic Conference today. Both will dawn the black and gold, which is fitting for a matchup that stylistically features two incredibly similar teams looking for a big win today. VCU is looking for two straight Ws against the Shockers after a 16-point victory over Gregg Marshall and Co. at the Siegel Center last season. WSU is hoping for some payback and their third consecutive top-50 win of the season.

VCU (9-2)

Their approach is a bit different, but the results quite the same to this year's VCU group. Wichita State has used a stifling defense to build their impressive early resume with what's a young, but promising group of players under Greg Marshall in his 13th season at Koch Arena. WSU ranks 12th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency thanks to the nation's 8th best two-point percentage defense and like VCU, one the countries better turnover Ds in the land. The Shockers turned kenpom No.31 Oklahoma State over 18 times in a recent road win, limiting the Cowboys top-100 offense to just 38.5% shooting from the field in the dominant 19-point road win. They followed that up by sweeping the State's top teams with a 80-75 home win over the Sooners of Oklahoma, limiting Lon Kruger's team to just 30.6% shooting inside the arc and outrebounding the Big 12 squad by a ridiculous 17 boards.

Offensively WSU is a bit like the Rams as well, finding more efficiency this season behind the three-point line than in front of it. The Shockers have shot a solid 34.8% from deep this season, but are connecting on just 46.1% of their attempts inside the arc. Unlike VCU however, Wichita State hasn't been quite as good at getting to the free throw stripe, making their offense more dependent on connecting from long range. They help their overall offensive efficiency however (ranked 89th nationally), by holding on to the ball (ranking 16th in turnover percentage offense) and gobbling up offensive rebounds (52nd nationally) with 6'6 junior, Trey Wade, and 6'10 senior center, Jaime Echenique.

Size wise WSU is built a bit like VCU, opting for Wade at the four spot with 6'5 sophomore, Dexter Dennis, replacing him off the bench. They do however have the option of bring 7' 267 Dane, Asbjorn Mitgaard, off the bench. He will likely be facing off with Corey Douglas in most of his minutes today.

State basically runs a three-guard lineup featuring leading scorer Erik Stevenson (13.7 ppg, 5.4 rebs), Tyson Etienne (11.1 ppg, 45.6% 3p%) and Jamarius Burton (9.4 ppg and team-high 3.8 assists).

Stevenson and Etienne take the majority of their shots from beyond the three-point line, as does Dennis off the bench.

The Shockers' lone loss of the season came in a neutral court defeat to the Mountaineers of West Virginia. In that contest WSU was limited to 63 points on an abysmal 30.6% shooting and were out-rebounded by 17 by the much larger Big 12 squad.

After a defense-optional 46 points surrendered to Charleston in the first half of Wednesday's road win, the Rams looked much more like themselves in the second stanza against their CAA opponent, limiting the Cougars to 25 second half points and pulling off the road comeback in their first true road game of the season. Charleston still shot a blistering 50% from deep on the game, but VCU's second half lockdown combined with improved two-point shooting (51.2%) and hustle stat advantages in both rebounds (+8) and turnover margin (+6) proved too much for the Cougs to overcome. Junior big, Marcus Santos-Silva, chipped in another ho-hum 17-point, 11-rebound double-double in his 25 minutes of action, while senior star point guard, Marcus Evans, posted his best game in almost over a month, scoring 16 points on 50% shooting and a 100% night at the free throw stripe in the win. His 131 offensive rating was his best since Nov 25 against Alabama State.

That second half Rams team is what fans have been hoping for and was a sample of the type of play most thought VCU would flash more of this season. Not only did VCU's defense completely shut down their CAA opponent during those last 20 minutes, but the offense posted a solid 54% true shooting percentage thanks to some improved efficiency in the paint including a 7-11 two-point second half from VCU's senior trio of Marcus Evans, Issac Vann and De'Riante Jenkins.

Overall defensive efficiency has been strong on the year, although opponents are finding more success from deep this season (33.8%) than last (28.5%) against the Rams.

Offensively the Rams are slightly up this year thanks to much-improved three-point shooting (up 6.3%) despite the dip in efficiency inside the arc (down 5.8%), for an overall effective field goal percentage improvement of just 0.2%, but when paired with the slightest of upticks in free throw rate and turnover improvement, has VCU just a hair more dangerous on offense than last season's NCAA tournament squad.

The Rams ability to find more efficiency inside the arc combined with continued improved defense can take this year's team from good to great and with a win today, likely back inside the AP top-25 to join VCU's current top-25 home in the coaches poll.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WSU 77, VCU 72.3</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WSU 61.7, VCU 61.9</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 50.3%, WSU 48.4%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WSU 44.2%, VCU 47.2%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 36.8%, WSU 34.8%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 33.8%, WSU 34.3%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 47.3%, WSU 46.1%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WSU 40.1%, VCU 45.4%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WSU 40.6, VCU 32.6</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WSU 15.9%, VCU 18.5%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 28.1%, WSU 22.4%</span>

My brain says VCU needs to win the whistle and the hustle stats tonight because I just don't see VCU having success connecting on twos against this defense, but then I see that the Rams finished 74.2% of their shots inside the arc against the Shockers last season and I don't know what to think.

A decent-sized turnover margin feels necessary while keeping the rebound battle close. Combine that with one of (we hope) VCU's best defensive performances of the season and the Rams can pull off a huge road win today.

The black and gold have played three top-50 teams this season, all of which came down to one shot's difference at the end of the game. Buckle up!

Kenpom: 70-66 VCU loss with a 34% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 12PM at Koch Arena in Wichita, KS

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Mat Shelton-Eide
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