Game Preview: VCU v Cal [INSIDER]

For the second consecutive game VCU managed to hang a solid scoring number on the board, only to see that effort dashed by a lack of defense. VCU's 83 against Marquette weren't enough Monday, as the Golden Eagles hung 94 on VCU in the opening round of this year's Maui Invitational. It was the most points a VCU team has allowed since Dec 6, 2000.

That means a matchup for VCU and California Tuesday afternoon, after the Bears managed to squander an 18-point lead against No.6 Wichita State, resulting in a 92-82 second round collapse loss for the boys from Berkeley.

Buckle up, first to 90 might be your winner on Tuesday.

VCU (2-2)
CAL (2-2)[/HEADING=3]

For one half of basketball Monday night, the Cal Bears looked as if they would be a surprise winner in this year's Maui Invitational, sitting 20 minutes away from shocking Gregg Marshall and his 6th-ranked WSU Shockers. They looked good. For most of the remaining 20 minutes, they looked a lot like the team that opened their season with a home loss to UC Riverside.

Cal did just enough Monday night to confuse us all, dominating a team many are picking to go to the Final 4 before snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It was essentially the only time Cal has looked like a legit team this season under first-year head coach Wyking Jones. Coming off some serious talent loss on the court and a coaching change on the sidelines, the Bears lost their home opener to kenpom's 281st-ranked team, followed it up with a narrow three-point home escape of No.244 Cal Poly, then turned a 1-point halftime lead over No.203 Wofford into a 79-65 victory.

Which Cal team will show up tomorrow?

California connected on 52.6% of their 19 attempts from distance against WSU but gets just 22.1% of their scoring from the three (yay!), preferring instead to do most of their damage inside the arc and at the free throw line. While junior guard Don Coleman leads the Bears with a ridiculous 26 ppg average, in many ways it's the trio of towers Marcus Lee (6'11 225), Kingsley Okoroh (7'1 267) and Justice Sueing (6'7 209) that are the identity of this Cal team. Lee and Okoroh are nightly double-double threats, combining for 25.3 points and 20 rebounds per game, while the freshman Sueing has chipped in 11 points per night thus far this season.

With so much size comes the expected high blocks percentage defense (16%, ranking 34th nationally), but also a pretty porous three-point defense that's currently giving up 40.2% shooting from deep to opposing teams.

Cal is large but young and relies on essentially a six man rotation. They have been extremely turnover prone through four games, handing it over on 22.2% of their possessions.

The long and short of this VCU team: explosive on offense but a long way to go on defense.

The Rams 85 points per game is up 10 points from last season's average, but VCU's 249th-ranked effective field goal percentage D and 75 ppg allowed offers up some real reason for concern.  VCU has had a tough time defending the three all season (and in the preseason as well), but have added some concerning two-point defense to the mix in these last two contests against top-100 teams, allowing Marquette to finish a ridiculous 70% of their shots inside the arc after UVA converted on 55% of their attempts in front of a hostile Siegel Center crowd. Defensively havoc may look back in the sense that the Rams are pressing more, but the turnovers have yet to really follow, as VCU's 17% defensive turnover percentage ranks 261st nationally and is the worst mark in that stat for a VCU team since kenpom has been keeping the stat.

Offensively the Rams have a number of scorers that can hurt opposing teams, but could be without second leading scorer Issac Vann for an unknown amount of time after the sophomore went down to injury in the first half against Marquette. Don't be surprised if freshman Sean Mobley doesn't soak up some of Vann's vacated minutes, especially against a Cal team with such a size advantage down low.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 84.8, CAL 78</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">CAL 78.3, VCU 80</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 53.9%, CAL 50%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">CAL 52.4%, VCU 53.4%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">CAL 41.1%, VCU 38.6%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 37.5%, CAL 40.2%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 51.5%, CAL 46.2%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">CAL 47.3%, VCU 51.3%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 40, CAL 37.8</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 16%, CAL 22.2%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">CAL 19.1%, VCU 17%</span>

I think it's obvious by now just how far a little bit of defense would go with this team. Even if VCU is forced to go without Vann there are a number of scorers in this group capable of filling the stat sheet. But like we've seen in these last two and nearly in the one before that against North Florida, VCU's defense is capable of keeping almost any opponent within reach and has sabotaged the black and gold in their two top-100 games this season. An improved defensive effort would go a long way against Cal but a little bit of havoc turned into another big scoring night could be just enough as well.

I think the key for Cal is finding a way to shut down VCU from deep. The Bears are long, but will be forced to run those big bodies all over the court with VCU's relentless speed. If VCU finds open looks and knocks them down it could be hard for this Cal team to leave victorious attempting to match VCU's threes with twos. But a cold night from VCU from deep would force the Rams into finding buckets amongst the trees of Cal's towering front court and combined with VCU's lack of anything resembling a consistent defense, could lock up at least one win in Maui for the Pac 12 team.

Kenpom: 78-76 VCU win with a 57% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 4PM EST at Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, HI

Watch: ESPN2, Official game day headquarters at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
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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