Game Preview: VCU v JMU [INSIDER]

All of Ram Nation was preparing for a rematch with former head coach Will Wade and his LSU Tigers today (after defeating LSU at the Siegel Center last year), but COVID "issues" forced the SEC squad to cancel and setup an in-state matchup with former CAA foe, JMU, this afternoon instead. Wasn't what everyone was looking forward to, but it's a basketball game, which in'll take however you can get it.
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VCU (6-2)
JMU (3-2)[/HEADING=3]

New Dukes head coach Mark Byington is looking to rebuild the team from Harrisonburg this season, leaving his position at Georgia Southern to take on this construction project to go along with what is a gorgeous new Convocation Center JMU will call home under Byington. With that, JMU is giving some early burn to some young players, starting two freshmen, Terell Stickland and Justin Amadi, alongside sophomore forward, Julian Wooden, while bringing frosh, Terrence Edwards, off the bench as the team's sixth man. As to be expected with such a young group, there have been some early bumps in the road for the Dukes, falling to kenpom No.247 Norfolk State in the team's first Division I matchup of the year, 83-73, then losing one of their other two DI matchups to ECU, 73-64. JMU has two wins over DII teams and a non-conference victory over former Rams' assistant Mike Jones and his Radford Highlanders, 67-59.

Early on the Dukes have been a bit plagued by poor shooting (45.8% effective field goal percentage, good for 251st in the land) and a struggling D (313th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency), a dangerous combo in a game that requires you to outscore the competition. Offensively they've done a nice job at drawing fouls, ranking 22nd in the land currently in free throw rate, but effectively have neutralized that advantage by being one of the most foul-prone teams defensively. JMU ranks 308th nationally in defensive free throw rate. This is all despite playing the nation's No.277 strength of schedule thus far.

JMU does not go particularly deep into their bench. Just seven players logged double-digit minutes in their recent 9-point loss to East Carolina, four of those players being underclassmen.

It is the two upperclassmen that will likely provide the biggest threat in tonight's matchup, however. Senior Matt Lewis leads the team at 21.2 points per game while junior Vado Morse isn't far behind at 15.5 per while shooting a dangerous 46.2% from beyond the three-point line. That overall number however, is significantly higher than his previous career average and dips when subtracting JMU's two DII opponents.

JMU finished 9-21 last season (8-21 against DI teams) and dead last in the CAA with a 2-16 conference finish.

You've gotten to know this group a bit this year now that the Rams have eight contests under their belt, so I'm going to take this time to drill into something that impressed me so much in VCU's recent win over Western Carolina: THESE DUDES ARE PLAYING GREAT TEAM BASKETBALL AND REALLY KNOW HOW TO MOVE THE ROCK.

The Rams ball movement against WCU was among the best I can honestly ever remember seeing from a VCU team, the beautiful unselfish passing display flooding our top-5 highlight feed that evening, creating a ton of easy baskets that helped VCU in finishing 69.2% of their two-point attempts in the win. There are teams that say that like each other, like playing with one another, then there are teams where the results confirm that with great passing numbers.

A total of 21 of VCU 37 makes were assisted in the win, a season-high for this Rams squad. Perhaps my favorite stat connected to that is 53.3% of VCU's shots at the rim are assisted. That's up 11.1% from last season and the only rate over 50% from VCU this decade.

The Rams have played a ton of extremely tough defenses to start their season, so it will be fun to see how the black and gold continue to improve as a passing team as they gel with experience as a group and as they continue to face teams that don't lock down quite like they faced against the likes of West Virginia, Penn State, Utah State and Memphis.

VCU is currently defending at the rate of the Rams team that two seasons ago that won the A-10 regular season title, which combined with a group that is learning to get easy buckets, hints at something potentially exciting as the season continues to progress.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">JMU 78.2, VCU 76.9</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 62.6, JMU 65</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 55%, JMU 45.8%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 43.8%, JMU 50.6%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 35.1%, JMU 29.9%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 28.2%, JMU 34.5%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 56.5%, JMU 46.6%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 44.5%, JMU 50%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">JMU 38, VCU 33.8</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">JMU 18.7%, VCU 20.3%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 25.3%, JMU 21.1%</span>

To hammer home a theme of this game preview, I want to see the Rams unselfish play continue with more great passing that creates high-percentage baskets. VCU's 56.5% two-point percentage is the best you'll find from a Rams team on kenpom (dates back to '01-'02 season), which combined with a top-20 national defense is just flat out dangerous. The Rams shooting 60% inside against two top-100 defenses (one of them top-20) is horrifying for the nation's 313th-ranked D at the Stu this afternoon knowing what's facing JMU when they themselves are bringing the ball up the court. So yes, I wanna see VCU continue to lock in offensively and keep looking for the absolute best shot possible. If the Rams do that today they have a shot to beat kenpom's predicted 20-point win.

Kenpom: 82-62 VCU win with a 96% chance of a Rams victory.

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

Watch: MASN

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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