Game Preview: VCU v Jacksonville State [INSIDER]

Three days ago the Twitter account, @yeah_ace3, tweeted "3 days man!!". That account, not surprisingly, belongs to one Ace Baldwin and today is the day. But is it? Is today the day Ace Baldwin returns to VCU's lineup against Jacksonville State? We will find out in a few hours.
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VCU (4-4)

In his sixth year with the Gamecocks, Ray Harper is looking to get this JSU squad back to it's winning ways. His last two seasons in the Ohio Valley Conference were two of his worst, finishing below 20 wins for the first time after three consecutive years of relative glory, but with an extremely experienced squad (32nd nationally in experience), Gamecock fans are hoping the wins will start to pile up once more.

So far however, that has not been the case. JSU lost a tight road contest at kenpom No.57 Wichita State by three, but added three bad losses as well. The Gamecocks dropped a triple-overtime thriller against No.251 Troy, scoring only 65 points in the loss despite 15 extra minutes of action, followed that up with an 8-point neutral court L to No.215 Valpo, then just recently dropped a home contest to No.178 South Alabama by 10.

JSU's issues are somewhat relatable to VCU fans, which is a high-turnover, inconsistent scoring offense. Unlike VCU however, JSU hasn't had a great turnover defense this season (consistent with last year's effort), essentially playing with a handicap that allows their opponents many more looks at the basket night in and night out.

This year's group does not go particularly deep. JSU ranks 263rd nationally in bench minutes played and have three players so far this season averaging 30 or more minutes of action. That group is led by leading scorer, Darian Adams (15.1 ppg, 4.7 apg). He's logging 34.6 minutes a contest, just ahead of second leading scorer Jalen Gibbs who's chipping in 11.1 ppg in his 31.4 minutes of action. They are joined in the starting lineup by 6'7 senior, Kanye Henry (30 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 6.6 rebs), 6'10 starting big, Brandon Huffman (9.6 ppg, 6.1 rebs) and junior guard, Jalen Finch.

JSU has lived or died by the three this year as the 13th-most three-point dependent team in college hoops, thankfully also checking in at 6th nationally in three-point percentage (42.4%). They shot 40% against Wichita State's 16th-ranked 3-point D, but since then have faced some of the worst three-point Ds in college hoops. They'll test their strength so far this season against VCU's ninth-ranked three-point defense.

This will be the first meeting between the two programs since Nov 19, 2019, a 93-65 VCU win.

VCU is coming off a narrow home win over a program kenpom currently ranks below JSU, that being the No.155 Campbell. The Camels are coached by longtime Richmond Spiders assistant, Kevin McGeehan, a scheduled contest no doubt to tune VCU up for the A-10 preseason No.2 Richmond Spiders. It was a tuneup the Rams clearly needed. VCU found themselves big early before trimming Camel's lead to one going into the half. The Rams were able to extend their second half lead to nine late until Campbell used some havoc of their own with 2:01 to play to go on a quick 7-0 run in about 1.5 minutes of action prior to VCU freshman, Jayden Nunn, hitting two clutch free throws with 20 seconds to effectively win the game for the Rams.

In defeat the Camels become just the third VCU opponent to score 60 points or more on the Rams this season. VCU's defense has been nothing but elite, even challenging some of the nation's top teams. It's the other side of the ball the black and gold have had all their issues with.

Can a potential Wednesday night return from Ace Baldwin remedy that? And even if he does return, would he play enough to actually have that much of an impact?

Either way, Baldwin's unexpected summer injury threw freshman Nunn and transfer Tsohonis into some point guards minutes neither likely expected heading into this season. Baldwin's ability to get back on the court consistently would allow both to settle more into their perhaps more natural roles off the ball, but both having sharpened their PG skills a bit prior to doing so.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">JSU 70.1, VCU 57.4</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 57.5, JSU 67.6</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">JSU 52%, VCU 45.4%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 39.3%, JSU 46.4%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">JSU 42.4%, VCU 29.4%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 24.4%, JSU 29.2%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 46%, JSU 43.1%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 40.8%, JSU 48.2%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">JSU 36.9, VCU 32.9</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">JSU 22.3%, VCU 24.6%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 26.4%, JSU 18.2%</span>

Jacksonville State has taken 165 of their 381 attempts from beyond the three-point arc this season, connecting on 42.4% of them. That's the key thing to know going into this one. VCU has been REALLY good at defending the arc this season and they'll need to do the same tonight. Throw in JSU's 310th ranked turnover offense against VCU's ninth-ranked turnover defense and there's some opportunity for the Rams to get some points in transition. I think what most Rams fans are hoping for overall though is an appearance from Ace Baldwin and a steadying one at that in terms of the VCU offense.

Kenpom: 65-58 VCU win with a 73% chance of a Rams victory.

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


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Live Tweets: <a href="">@VCURamNation</a>

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Mat Shelton-Eide
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