Game Preview: VCU v Buffalo [INSIDER]

<a href="" rel="attachment wp-att-15674"><img class="alignright wp-image-15674 size-medium" src="" alt="22946464099_2d99d3b906_b" width="200" height="300" /></a>VCU will hope to halt a three-game losing streak while wrapping up a special Christmas win for the Ram faithful when welcoming the Buffalo Bulls to the Siegel Center this evening, a team that has already suffered a three-game losing streak of their own after losing several key pieces from last year's MAC champion NCAA tournament team.

VCU (5-5)
Buffalo (6-5)[/HEADING=3]

Buffalo is forced to take a more difficult path back to the NCAA tournament after losing their two best players and head coach from last year's conference champion team. Sound familiar? Like VCU, the Bulls saw their head coach (former Duke legend, Bobby Hurley) poached by a Power 5 school then lost their two best players during the offseason. The result has been five losses against top-100ish teams (four against kenpom top-100, one against No.103 St. Bonaventure). SOUND FAMILIAR? The departures of leading scorers Justin Moss and Shannon Evans and really hurt what would have been far and away the most dangerous team out of the MAC and one of the nation's biggest mid-major sleepers heading into this year's tournament. Buffalo's numbers are down big across the point, seeing the Bulls drop out of the top-100 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency thanks to an effective field goal percentage that ranks 318th nationally (down from 189 last season). That isn't to say Buffalo is without dangerous options. Four Bulls currently average double-figures in under 30 minutes of play while two others check in at just under nine points per contest in under 30 as well. They are a relatively deep team out of the MAC but have struggled with efficiency, consistency and an ability to finish games. The Bulls will be a serious change of pace compared to the massive teams VCU has lost to this season. No Bull 6'8 or taller has averaged over 19 minutes on this year's squad and Buffalo's two most played bigs, 6'8 225 Nick Perkins and 6'10 235 Ikenna Smart, are both freshman.

Unlike Buffalo VCU has been in basically all of their five losses to top-100 teams, seeing the majority of those slip away in the closing minutes thanks to an inability to finish and a feast or famine offense (mostly famine as of late). VCU's guards have for the most part dominated the touches on this this year's Rams team but outside of Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury to a some extent have been for the most part extremely inconsistent or just downright ice-cold. VCU's team three-point number has been carried by Melvin Johnson and overall is the best it's been since the Rams' Final 4 season but has been unable to carry the team's overall offensive efficiency thanks to an abysmal two-point percentage (42.3%) that is one of the worst you'll ever see at VCU and currently ranks 318th nationally out of 351 teams. Defensively the Rams have done a nice job maintaining havoc, actually improving on turnover and steals percentages from last season while improving two-point D as well but have seen teams hit the highest percentage of threes against them since 2007. Overall the Rams have a top-40 defense but are have seen their offense struggle against a schedule that, to be fair, most teams would struggle against. Six of the Rams' 10 games have been against top-100 defenses, four coming against the top-40, three of those being top-25 overall defenses. Only one of VCU's losses came to a team with a defense ranked outside of the top-100, that being Georgia Tech (125) in a road loss.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">BU 75.9, VCU 71.9</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 66.6, BU 73.9</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 46.5%, BU 43.8%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 48.1%, BU 50.3%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 36.8%, BU 28.5%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 35.2%, BU 35.8%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">BU 40.3, VCU 37.5</span>
Turnover Percentage Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 24%, BU 18.4%</span>
Turnover Percentage Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">BU 16.9%, VCU 17.6%</span>

After playing in the land of the giants for about the last five games, in particular the last three, VCU finally gets a serious size advantage. The question is can we use it? VCU's gameplan for the most part has been to attack, attack, attack but have seen that strategy rendered somewhat ineffective due to the an endless hoard of talented 6'8-plus backups over the Rams last three games. A key part of VCU's strategy tonight will no doubt be in forcing foul trouble in the paint followed by what Will Wade will hope will be a "layup line" to the basket for easy buckets and free throws. That coming true would work wonders for a Rams offense that has looked a lot like Tiny Tim during Scrooge's visit to Christmas future. (Spoiler alert: that was the part where Tim's family was morning his death...very sad).

The Bulls will need another poor offensive performance from the Rams if they want to escape Richmond full of holiday cheer. They can probably help themselves by avoiding foul trouble while attempting to keep VCU out of the paint and dependent on the deep ball, an area where the Rams have found no consistency outside of Melvin Johnson. Offensively Buffalo will follow a similar gameplan as VCU, looking to take the crowd out of tonight's game thanks to a large free throw attempt count. Nate Oats' squad currently ranks 39th nationally in terms of percentage of points scored at the free throw line so that will clearly be a big point of emphasis tonight.

Kenpom: 79-68 VCU win with an 85% chance of a VCU victory.

Game tips at 7PM in the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA.

Watch: CSN-MA, Official watch parties at 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:¬†@VCURamNation​

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Mat Shelton-Eide
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