Game Preview: VCU v Kennesaw State

Coming off their worst showing the season so far, a 15-point loss at Memphis in a game the Rams could muster only a limited offense to put it kindly, the black and gold look to start a new win streak today win welcoming the Owls of Kennesaw State to the Siegel Center this afternoon. The ASUN squad is coming off a loss themselves, a 24-point shellacking at the at the hands of Campbell, but behind an experienced group are hoping they can find enough magic to upset an Ace Baldwin-less VCU team win the final horn sounds around 6PM this evening.

VCU (3-2)

The Owls are looking to make steady progress under fourth-year head coach, Amir Abdur-Rahim, and so far thats been the case for the group from Georgia. After an abysmal 1-28 start as head coach, Abdur-Rahim collected 13 wins and a 7-9 conference record this past year with largely the same group he'll suit up today (the Owls rank No.1 in minutes continuity this season). Kennesaw has two easy wins over DII opponents as a part of their record, but managed to somewhat hang with a solid Florida team earlier this year in an eventual 10-point loss. Their two others wins were by four points each against relative cupcakes, but thanks to a top-20 three-point offense, will no doubt come into the Stu with the full attention of VCU's coaching staff today.

The Owls play a pretty deep bench, going nine to 10 players in most contests and have 10 players averaging double-digit minutes this season. With that depth you might expect a more uptempo pace a la VCU, but Kennesaw checks in at just 267th nationally in tempo so far this year. Of that group, the player to really circle on your scouting report is 6'4 junior guard/forward, Chris Youngblood. The Tuscaloosa native shot 40% from distance on 145 attempts this past season and is thirsty for me this year, leading the team at 16 points per game while connecting on 41.7% of his threes so far for the Owls. Youngblood is extremely solid with the ball and has just four total turnovers in his 168 minutes of play this season.

Youngblood gets a number of those open looks via point guard Terrell Burden, the team's other double-digit scorer at 12.2 ppg. Burden is a solid assist man at 4.5 per contest to his three turnovers per game and while he has been lights out from three so far this year (6-9), does most of his scoring inside the arc.

The 5'10 Youngblood leads a relatively small lineup that goes 5'10, 6'4, 6'4, 6'6 and 6'8 as their most played lineup, Kennesaw State ranking in at 334th nationally in average height in DI hoops.

So far the Owls have really struggled to defend on the season (287th in adjusted defensive efficiency) thanks to teams absolutely torching them from three (44.6% opponent 3p% ranks 360th nationally) an finishing a way-too-efficient 54% inside the arc.

Player to watch: 6'6 guard, Brandon Stroud. The Atlanta native ranks third on the Owls in scoring, but tops in rebounds at 7.3 per contest in just 21.8 minutes per game. He has two double-doubles on the year and has at least one steal in five of his six games. He's hit 50% of his eight three-point attempts and can fill up a stat sheet if he isn't in foul trouble.

Following VCU's performance against Memphis, injured Rams point guard, Ace Baldwin, tweeted, "We be beatn ourselves every time", which sums up VCU's season so far.

Last season's NIT Rams ranked 341st nationally in turnover offense, handing the ball over 21.9% of their offensive possessions and they are apparently thirsty for more, turning it over an even worse 24.4% of their possessions to currently rank 347th in the land. It's a self-inflicted wound that is made even worse considering the Rams' 305th-ranked effective field goal percentage offense.

Following the Rams' win over Manhattan earlier this season, Head Coach Mike Rhoades said, "We have multiple guys who can make plays with the basketball for themselves and their teammates, and that makes you hard to guard...And when you have a point guard that gets that ball hot like Ace does … we could have a really good offense."

No Ace has clearly equaled a major problem for VCU, but even with Baldwin in the lineup the Rams managed to score fewer points against that Jaspers team (73) than 346th-ranked Fairleigh Dickinson did (77) and managed just 69 points against a Morgan State squad that has surrendered 70 or more points in regulation to the likes of Xavier (96), Queens (74) and Loyola Marymount (74).

I asked Rhoades about the turnover issue in particular because through six seasons, five of Rhoades' teams have ranked 199th or worse nationally in turnover percentage offense (four 250 or worse, two 340 or worse), while his time as Associated Head Coach under Shaka Smart saw the Rams rank within the top-100 in turnover percentage offense all six seasons including top-50 five of those six years. You can see what he thought the difference was below, starting at the 3:37 mark.

Five Rams are averaging over two turnovers per contest including four of VCU's current starters without Baldwin in the lineup, Brandon Johns Jr. being the lone exception at 1.6 per contest.

When VCU isn't turning the ball over they have struggled to hit shots from basically every location on the court. The Rams rank 267th currently in two-point percentage offense at 46.3% (down from 51.1% last year) and 289th from three at 29.6% (down from 34.7% last year). VCU's 63.8 points per game ranks 358th out of the 363th DI basketball teams this season. Woof.

Defensively the Rams haven't been as elite as their past two seasons, but are an incredibly strong top-30 nationally at the moment. Getting their A-10 All-Defensive point guard back will only help that, but in the meantime the Rams have held all of their opponents under 70 points a season-low 62 points posted by a top-30 Memphis team.

Scoring Offense:<span style="color: #ff0000;"> KEN 79.3, VCU 63.8</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 60.4, KEN 66.7</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">KEN 52%, VCU 45.5%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 44.7%, KEN 58.1%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">KEN 40.5%, VCU 29.6%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 26.8%, KEN 44.6%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">KEN 46.8%, VCU 46.3%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 46.2%, KEN 54%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">KEN 36.7, VCU 35</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">KEN 18.2%, VCU 24.4%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 26.9%, KEN 19%</span>

<span style="color: #000000;">VCU WINS IF</span>[/HEADING=3]
They limit turnovers and defend the three.

The Rams were -4 in turnover margin in the 4-point loss to Arizona State and were even with Memphis, but shot just 29% in the loss to the Tigers. Kennesaw State hasn't shown the ability to defend like Memphis or Arizona, so simply maximizing possessions so AT WORST you get a missed shot and not a shot not taken... will go a long way against the Owls, but would also just be a positive sign for Ram fans to see.

Beyond that it's clearly limiting the three ball. The Owls ranked top-50 nationally from distance last year and are up to top-20 so far this season, so good communication and running guys off the line could prove crucial to avoiding what would no doubt be a brutal home loss for the black and gold.

Kenpom: 73-62 VCU win with an 86% chance of a Rams victory.

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


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Mat Shelton-Eide
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