Game Preview: VCU v Florida Atlantic University [INSIDER]

Two teams riding three-game winning streaks, VCU and FAU, will tip it up at the Siegel Center tonight to see who can keep it rolling three December. VCU brings the nation's fourth-best defense, FAU brings the eighth-ranked shooting offense. Something's gotta give!
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VCU (6-4)
FAU (6-4)[/HEADING=3]

Got your attention with the eighth-ranked shooting offense, yeah? The Owls are off to their best shooting start under fourth-year head coach, Dusty May, connecting on 58.9% of their attempts inside the arc and just under 37% outside of it for the nation's current eighth-ranked effective field goal percentage offense at 57.4%. That's great. The catch however, is they have done so against the nation's 357th-ranked schedule. Four of FAU's wins are against teams ranked 300 or below on kenpom (two were DII opponents), with the CUSA team's other two victories coming against No.251 Stetson (by 10) and No.285 North Florida (by 35).

FAU has two sub-200 losses (New Mexico and Troy), both close contests, fell at home by four to JMU and came up a bucket short at home against an 8-3 Jim Laranaga-coached Miami team that has two top-100 wins on the season. That last bit of info combined with FAU's early shooting success should be at it takes to have the Rams' attention today.

A few other things that will have the attention of this VCU staff: FAU ranks 304th nationally in non-steal turnover offense, they rank 249th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and that they ranks 327th nationally in experience.

The Owls typically play about six freshman and three sophomores and have been turnover prone so far this year, an ominous pairing of facts against a VCU defense that is historically good for Broad St. One of their more experienced weapons however is junior, Micheal Forest (16.2 ppg). Forest has been a knockdown shooter to start the season and is averaging just under 30 minutes per game. The 6'1 shooting guard does most of his damage from distance where he has hit 40.9% so far this year. He's just outpacing "freshman" (considered a freshman, but in his second year via COVID rules), Alijah Martin (12.4 ppg). The duo love to sit behind the arc and drill threes for the Owls, something that will be tested against VCU's No.1 nationally-ranked three-point defense.

They are joined in the backcourt by starting "sophomore" point guard, Bryan Greenlee (10.6 ppg). Greenlee is in his second season with the Owls, but third overall after starting his career at Minnesota. He's been an extremely efficient scorer and leads the team with 4.6 assists per contest.

Fun Fact: All 12 players for FAU are shooting over 50% inside the arc this season with five of them finishing over 60% of those. Only five Rams are shooting over 50% inside the arc this season.

Fun Fact 2: Only 16.9% of Florida Atlantic's shots come via the statistically dreaded two-point jump shot (and they make 52% of those!). As an assistant coach in the state of Florida who may or may not coach in the same conference as FAU told me, "It's layups for 3s". As an analytics guy, I tip my hat to that smart approach.

Well, Ace is back. How nice has that been? The Rams starting point guard missed all but the last two contests this season and has, not surprisingly, sparked VCU's offense since returning. Baldwin is average 12 points and five steals per contest so far to give the Rams a dangerous two-way guard who's the true "tip of the spear" as ODU Head Coach, Jeff Jones, called him for this Rams team.

Ram fans will hope to see two more players return as well. Since Ace got back, both Hason Ward and Mikeal Brown-Jones have been absent, Ward with an ankle injury, MBJ in concussion protocol. Both had struggled offensively this season but were just the opposite on the other side of the ball. Rams fans (this one at least) are curious to see if Baldwin's return will be enough to unlock Ward's offensive potential he showed in his first two seasons prior to sputtering out of the gates to start this year. The 6'9 Barbados native posted a 41% true shooting percentage prior to his injury, down a full 20% from his first two years with the Rams.

And that, again, is the key to this team's potential.

VCU has been one of the best defensive teams in the nation and not just against the scrubs. The Rams limited the top-ranked Baylor Bears to just 69 points (their second lowest of the season behind a recent 57-point outing against Villanova), but could only manage 61 in what would have been a stunning upset from the black and gold. While VCU has been historically good defensively, they have been historically bad offensively. VCU's 0.86 points per possession ranks 321st in all of college hoops.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">FAU 79.5, VCU 60</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 57.8, FAU 69.8</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">FAU 57.4%, VCU 46.5%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 40.6%, FAU 52.1%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">FAU 36.9%, VCU 28.9%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 24.1%, FAU 41.2%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">FAU 58.9%, VCU 48%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 43%, FAU 46.8%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">FAU 38.4, VCU 32.8</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">FAU 18.7%, VCU 23.2%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 26.4%, FAU 18.7%</span>

For starters, getting Hason Ward back into the lineup wouldn't hurt. The elite shot-blocker was back in practice this week, but listed as day-to-day. The Rams gave up 51.1% shooting inside the arc to ODU and 51.7% shooting inside the arc to Jacksonville State without Ward, as well as 57.6% shooting inside the arc to Campbell with Ward playing limited minutes (9 total). With both Ward and Mikeal Brown-Jones (out tonight) in the line up the two previous games they gave up just 36.1% shooting inside the arc to UConn, 42.9% to Baylor and 33.3% to Syracuse the three games prior. Ward is a SERIOUS difference maker defensively for the Rams and heading into a contest with the sixth-best two-point shooting team in the country, his presence tonight would certainly be a welcome one. After that VCU's ability to win the ugly stats (turnovers and rebounds) goes a long way. The Rams have been so good defensively, but often struggle to capitalize on the other end of the floor. VCU's ability to create additional opportunities will go a long way against a team that's been very efficient at putting the ball in the hoop.

Kenpom: a69-58 VCU win with an 83% chance of a Rams victory.

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


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Mat Shelton-Eide
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