Game Preview: VCU v Dayton [INSIDER]

Coming into the season VCU head coach Mike Rhoades alluded to how different this year's young VCU team could look from game to game this season. Wednesday night we saw how that could be the case from half to half, as the Rams went from up 15 points at halftime in a road contest to a 16-point loser. That has been a bit of the case with today's opponent as well, as VCU will welcome a Dayton Flyers team to the Seigel Center that owns wins over two solid SEC teams, but losses to two of the Atlantic 10's worst: La Salle and Fordham. Who shows up today from either squad remains to be seen, but either way we know there will be one angry, very vocal A-10 fanbase unleashed on Twitter and Atlantic 10 message boards in just a matter of hours.
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VCU 10-4 (3-2)
DAYTON 8-3 (4-2)[/HEADING=3]

The Dayton Flyers are coming off some of the worst luck in the entire history of college basketball. Winners of 20 straight games including a perfect 18-0 conference record, the Flyers were on their way to their best season in the history of the program, staring down a No.1 seed in the 2020 NCAA tournament as a legit contender to win a national title.

Then, the unthinkable happened. Not an injury or scandal, but this bullpoop global pandemic we've all been living through for the past year that abruptly ended last year's college hoops season.

Following that the Flyers lost their best player, Obi Toppin, to the NBA lottery, graduated his talented front court companions, Ryan Mikesell and Tre Landers and since this season has tipped up, have lost guard Rodney Chatman to injury as well. And insane year for all college hoops lovers, but an especially brutal turn of events for a Flyer fanbase on the verge of glory.

Still, Dayton has yet to completely fall off the cliff. The Flyers come into today's match a top-75 kenpom team at that No.75 spot, still a top-10 efficient shooting team, but not exactly the elite offense they were last season. The Flyers No.2 nationally-ranked offense this past year has dipped to a still good, but easier to defend No.66 ranking. Dayton's shooting has still been somewhat off the charts, but they have really handicapped their overall efficiency with one of the nation's highest turnover rates, handing the ball over 22.4% of their possessions to rank 308th nationally.

Defensively they have taken a step back as well, down from 38th nationally the 2019-20 season to No.94 today.

Rebounding has been an issue on both sides of the ball, with the Flyers ranking sub-200 in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage.

Still, Dayton will suit up three very dangerous and efficient scorers today. Ram fans will be familiar with A-10 POY candidate, Jalen Crutcher, the team's leading scorer at 19.5 points thanks largely to his 45% three-point shooting clip, as well as Ibi Watson (15.9 ppg, 43.5% 3p%), but will get introduced to freshman Mustapha Amzil, a Finland native who has wasted no time getting acclimated to college hoops, averaging 13.3 points per game and providing yet another dangerous three-point weapon with his 41.7% three-point start to his career.

With so many perimeter weapons and so few players in general, look for a heavy dose of all three and for the Flyers to spread the floor with their shooters and some 5-out looks NBA fans have become familiar with. Anthony Grant's club uses great spacing to create a ton of open looks, leading the A-10 with a brutally efficient 59.2% two-point percentage in Atlantic 10 play. That should test a VCU defense that has struggled with talented, experienced backcourts on the year, despite leading the Atlantic 10 in 2p% defense at 43.4%.
There have been two VCU's on the season and we saw both against St. Bonaventure, a bit of a repeat performance from what we saw when the Rams narrowly survived a very bad JMU team just about a month before.

On Dec 22, VCU took a 15-point halftime lead into the locker room against the Dukes, only to survive with a 1-point win after allowing 50 second half points against a Dukes squad that currently ranks 230th nationally on kenpom.

Same story against St. Bonaventure, but with a less-preferable outcome. VCU's 15-point halftime lead quickly vanished in a half the Rams were outscored 45 to 14, an embarrassing half of basketball that left Ram fans shaking their heads.

How does a team thank ranks 24th nationally on the season defensively seemingly forget how to play defense from half to half and for the second season in a row, why does VCU struggle so much offensively under Mike Rhoades in Atlantic 10 contests?

Last year's super experienced black and gold team finished eight in Atlantic 10 offensive efficiency and currently sit at 10th this season, a number that's actually even somewhat inflated due to nationally-ranked Saint Louis sitting dead last in A-10 offense due to the fact they have yet to play a conference game.

Youth will often be blamed for that this season despite the fact VCU starts two seniors and a junior, but what was the excuse last year?

Key A-10 offensive stat: The Rams rank 12th* in A-10 2p% offense currently at 46.9%. Last season they ranked 11th at 48.5%. The 2019 A-10 regular season champ Rams ranks 2nd at 56.7%. What's the key to cracking the code to getting back to that 2019 rate?

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 74.9, UD 69.7</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UD 65, VCU 66.7</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UD 57.7%, VCU 52.4%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 45.7%, UD 48.1%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 34.6%, UD 38.1%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 31.4%, UD 32%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UD 58%, VCU 52.7%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 45%, UD 48.1%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 34.1, UD 31.5</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 21.3%, UD 22.4%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 25.5%, UD 19.3%</span>

Dayton's two A-10 losses this season came surprisingly against La Salle and at Fordham. The Flyers connected on just 23.5% of their 17 threes attempted against the Explorers and an even worse 4-23 night (17.4%) against Fordham. They hit 53.3% of their threes against kenpom No.54 Ole Miss and shot over 40% from distance in their four Atlantic 10 wins.

You think stopping them from three is big tonight?

A lot of that will come down to the backcourt battle. The Rams two A-10 losses came in games where the black and gold had trouble containing the guards from both Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure and are now presented with the task of trying to be better against two of the conference's best. Dayton will spread the floor and we know VCU ain't zoning anyone anytime soon, so today could come down to VCU's young guards simply sitting down and playing some defense.

Kenpom: 69-66 VCU win with a 60% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 4:30PM at the Stuart C. Siegel 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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