Game Preview: VCU v Duquesne

Saturday could not come soon enough for the Rams after Wednesday's debacle against Dayton. The black and gold will look to quickly put that one behind them against a Duquesne Dukes squad just about ready to put this entire season behind them. A win keeps VCU on pace for a top-4 finish and the coveted A-10 tournament double-bye that comes with it. A loss and we might as well shut the forums down. Fingers crossed for the former!
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VCU (13-7, 6-3)
DUQUESNE (6-13, 1-6)[/HEADING=3]

Just two seasons ago the Dukes found themselves in the kenpom top-100 since former head coach, Ron Everhart, led them there in 2009. That 2020 Keith Dambrot squad took down the Rams in overtime at the Siegel Center, 80-77, in what seemed like just the beginning of what that talented young group's true potential was. That team's core is having wonderful individual seasons this year. Sincere Carry is averaging 17.9 points and nearly five assists. Marcus Weathers is posting 11.7 points and seven rebounds a night. Lamar Norman is averaging 19.8 points and shooting 36% from three and Tavian Dunn-Martin is averaging 19.7 points and 5.9 assists per game. The catch however, is they are all doing so at schools not named Duquesne.

Dambrot's promising core continued a trend under his leadership at Duquesne that has seen a mass exodus of transfers since he's taken over. The fifth-year Dukes leader has recruited at a level much higher than Duquesne should be capable of and has found a slew of hidden gems, but they all end their careers somewhere outside of Pittsburgh, PA. That turnover has resulted in a disastrous season for Dambrot and Co., their worst start to a season and on track for their worst final kenpom ranking, currently checking in at No.251 according to the computers.

The Dukes have lost six consecutive games now after pulling off a road win to start their Atlantic 10 season. Only two of those losses have been within single digits: a one-point road loss at Fordham and an eight-point home L to preseason No.1, St. Bonaventure.

It's a young Duquesne team (No.354 nationally in experience according to kenpom) with a sprinkling of transfer including former VCU commit under Will Wade, Kevin Easley, that has found no rhythm or chemistry.

The Dukes rank in the bottom half of college hoops in both adjusted offensive (No.232) and defensive efficiency (No.253). They have struggled to both score efficiently and keep teams from scoring efficiently themselves. They've lost their last five contest by an average margin of 16 points, four of those losses coming in front of their own home crowd.

Following the Dukes' recent loss to the Flyers, Dambrot essentially summed up this entire season for the Dukes, telling the media, "We have to care about nothing else but winning,” Dambrot said. “It’s simple for us: Play hard and play together. It sounds stupid and simplistic, but it isn’t. We have some good individual pieces, but we haven’t shown we can play consistently together. It’s as simple as that.”

VCU has had a bit of an imbalance all season that came to a head this week against Dayton. Led, by a lockdown defense all year, but a defense paired with a very flawed offense, VCU's D failed to show up against former Rams head coach Anthony Grant and his Dayton Flyers. The black and gold scored just one less point (52) than they did when they defeated the Flyers in Dayton to start A-10 play, but gave up 30 more points than they did that night, resulting in one of the most lopsided home losses in Siegel Center history.

Without A-10 Player of the Year candidate, Vince Williams, not to mention a much-needed versatile big in Jalen DeLoach (who arguably has quickly become VCU's most well-rounded big man already this year), the Flyers torched the Rams defense, finishing 54% of their attempts inside the arc and hitting just under 47% from three. They killed VCU on the glass and in the turnover column as well, resulting in an avalanche of bad basketball that doomed Mike Rhoades' team. The Rams had no answer in the paint for the Flyer combo of freshman phenom, DaRon Holmes (21 points, 7 rebounds) and 6'9 Georgia transfer, Toumani Camara (18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists). The duo torched VCU with DePaul transfer guard, Kobe Elvis, scoring a career-high 20 points while hitting a number of high-entertainment value shots against the surprisingly helpless VCU defense. The 82 points surrendered were the most VCU has given up since an 83-68 home loss Jan 9, 2021 against Rhode Island.

I remember a guy named Shaka Smart saying something along the lines of "you're never as good as you look in your best win or as bad as you look in your worst loss". Having wins already over the likes of Dayton, Davidson and Richmond, a healthy VCU has proven it's rock fight brand of basketball is capable of beating the best teams in the conference and that VCU isn't in fact as bad as they looked in their last appearance on a basketball court. But I guess the big question Ram fans are wondering is if they are as bad as they looked without Vince Williams, our one sample without the senior not looking all that great this year.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">DU 66.7, VCU 62.9</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 60.1, DU 71.5</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 49.4%, DU 46.6%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 43.3%, DU 52.3%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%:  <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 33.7%, DU 32.7%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 26.5%, DU 38.3%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 48.8%, DU 45.3%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 45.1%, DU 49.8%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">DU 35.5, VCU 31.7</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 22.2%, DU 17.3%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 26%, DU 18.7%</span>

According to kenpom, Duquesne is the second lowest-ranked team to play the Rams this year at No.251 nationally. VCU's two most similar opponents so far have been No.247 La Salle (a 19-point road win) and No.256 George Washington (a 27-point home win). So yes, this is a game that even with a banged up or absent Vince and Jalen, the Rams have a great opportunity to get back on track in. The Dukes' 300th-ranked effective field goal percentage offense versus VCU's 9th-ranked effective field goal percentage D in theory should be the story of this game. It is the worst shooting team VCU will have faced all season and one without a strong defense (like St. Peter's for example) to help bail them out. So with that in mind, a recommitment to defense after Wednesday's performance and a relatively mistake-free offensive night (don't hurt yourself, VCU) and the numbers say with or without Vince, this should be a very survivable game for the black and gold.

Kenpom: 67-54 VCU win with an 89% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 4PM at the Siegel Center in Richmond, VA

Watch: MASN2 / CBS 6 / ESPN+

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