Game Preview: VCU v Hampton [INSIDER]

VCU made easy work of Gardner-Webb in the Rams' home opener and will head into tonight's matchup with Hampton looking to do the same. Like Gardner-Webb, Hampton received first place votes in this year's Big South preseason poll in just their first season as a conference member. The Pirates leave the MEAC with great expectations in this year's Big South, picked to finish third in the conference after finishing tied atop that MEAC at 12-4 this past season.
<h4>VCU (1-0)
HAMPTON (1-0)</h4>
The Pirates return the majority of their production from last season's MEAC regular season championship team including leading scorer, Jermaine Marrow. The Newport News native is a bit of a volume guy looking for improved efficiency his junior season. As a sophomore Marrow averaged a team-high 18.8 points but did so with a sub-50% true shooting percentage and an effective field goal percentage of just 43.3%. He dumped 22 points in the Pirates' opening game against Mid Atlantic Christian, a 110-58 win. Marrow is a junior on an experienced squad who's nine most-played players in their opening-season win are upperclassmen. Marrow's main running partner this season comes in the form of 6'2 senior guard, Kalin Fisher. Fisher is the other returning double-digit scorer (12.6 ppg) from last year's team. Offensively last year's Pirates struggled to hit shots but helped their overall efficiency by simply holding on to the ball. Hampton was one of the absolute worst three-point shooting teams this past season, connecting on just 32% of their threes, but were a top-100 squad in turnover percentage offense, a ranking that will be tested tonight against VCU's reestablished havoc style of play. Defensively the Pirates were a very solid halfcourt unit but for the most part were able to skew the numbers against a very weak schedule (349th nationally). Only one MEAC opponent outside of Hampton cracked the kenpom top-300 and the Pirates were outscored by top-100 opponents by an average of 35 points per game, which includes an 82-points allowed evening against UVA, 15 above the Wahoos season average. Hampton plays an uptempo style ranking 28th in adjusted tempo this past season, meaning tonight's matchup good be a sprint up and down the court against a Mike Rhoades-led VCU squad that prefers to do the same.
VCU led their first Big South opponent, Garnder-Webb, by 20 points during the second half of this week's first contest before letting up on the throttle somewhat, finishing off the Bulldogs in a 12-point season-opening win. VCU held G-W to just 57 points including a stingy 22 over the first half. It was a defensive effort the black and gold rarely saw the previous season, holding just two opponents two under 60 points in Mike Rhoades' introductory season as head coach on Broad St. Offensively however, the black and gold struggled somewhat, turning the ball over 20 times while connecting on just 30% of their 23 three-point attempts. One player who had no problems on that side of the ball however, was Rice transfer, Marcus Evans. Evans surprised many Ram fans by getting in on the action just months after surgery on his achilles, scoring nine points in just nine minutes in his first appearance as a Ram for a ludicrous 46.7 player efficiency rating and 70% true shooting percentage to welcome himself back to college hoops. Evans came into the season with a 20 ppg career average through his first two seasons of college basketball. He wet the pallet of Ram fans who'll be hungry for more of what the talented Chesapeake native can bring to this year's team, which is an efficient offensive piece to go with what appears to be an improved defense. One key player in that improved defense is Evans' reunited teammate and fellow Rice transfer, Corey Douglas. The 6'9 big  blocked four shots in just 13 minutes of action to start him off with a team-high +18.1 defensive box plus/minus. Douglas and Co. will look to send Hampton's red-hot offense to a screeching halt against their first Division I opponent of the season.
<h4>VCU WINS IF</h4>
Against similarly-ranked opponents as VCU this past season, the difference that always doomed Hampton was defense. In their seven regular season contests against kenpom top-200 squads, the Pirates allowed over 85 points per game. They scored 75 or more points in four of those games. VCU's ability to more efficiently put the ball in the hoop could doom the Pirates hopes of a road upset. The Rams shot just 30.4% from three in their season opener, about 5% worse than last season's average. That effort included three-point goose egg nights from the usually reliable sharpshooters, De'Riante Jenkins and Sean Mobley, as a well and an 0-2 night from distance for fellow starter, Issac Vann. If the Rams can get that percentage to regress to the mean while flashing the improved D was saw against Gardner-Webb, not to mention seeing more minutes out of the recovering Evans, it could be a long night for the Pirates.

Kenpom: 81-70 VCU win with an 83% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 7PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center

Watch: MASN, ESPN+
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Mat Shelton-Eide
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