Game Preview: VCU v Manhattan [INSIDER]

Despite a huge number of new additions and the departure of one all-conference player to the NBA, expectations are once again high on Broad St. and perhaps have grown even HIGHER than many thought they could be with so much offseason transition. Ram fans got their first look at how the Black & Gold can compete in VCU's dominant exhibition win against Shippensburg -- a solid DII opponent that VCU made easy work of despite the absence of Michigan transfer, Brandon Johns Jr. (thought to be one of VCU's best players this season) -- but now get to see how this year's group can fair against their first DI opponent, or what's left of them, when a Manhattan team in turmoil comes to the Stu on Monday night.

VCU (0-0)


Who knew the preseason MAAC No.2 would grab the attention of the college hoops world heading into this season, but that is exactly what has happened with the surprise poorly-timed firing of Head Coach, Steve Masiello.

Oct 25th marked the end of Masiello's tenure in what was to be the start of season No.12 for Masiello, but instead turned into the end just under two weeks before the Jaspers traveled to Richmond to tip up the season against the Rams. With that firing, Manhattan also saw the transfer of MAAC Preseason Player of the Year, Jose Perez, who took his talents to West Virginia to play for Bob Huggins.

Omar Silverio, the team's projected starting shooting guard, entered the portal as well, as have projected starter, Samba Diallo, and top reserve Samir Stewart. Their names are currently absent from the Japsers active roster. That leaves three players: Elijah Buchanan (7.5 ppg), Ant Nelson (10.9 ppg) and Josh Roberts (8.9 ppg) as Manhattan's only 20+ minutes returners from last year's team that went 15-15 and greatly alters the trajectory of this year's group.

While expectations WERE high for the Jaspers heading into the season as far as MAAC play goes, last year's group, even with Perez, finished just 8-12 in conference play. The team ranked 279th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and 224th on the offensive side of the ball.

Like VCU, last year's Jaspers really struggled with turnovers offensively, but did a solid job on the other side of ball to attempt to even the margin there. They were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the nation at 29.9% per contest, struggled with fouling and defensive rebounding and allowed teams to finish 52.9% of their two-point attempts, ranking them the 293rd-ranked interior D in the country. Not good.

They will learn a lot about their new roster when opening the season against VCU on Monday night.

The key words that seem to be flying around the most in regards to this Rams team during the preseason are "talent" and "depth". Mike Rhoades' new-look squad has drawn rave reviews from fans in VCU's Black & Gold game and then later in the blowout exhibition win over a strong DII opponent. Having covered the Black & Gold for the past 15 seasons myself, I would concur that this does APPEAR to be as deep and as talented of a Rams team as I can remember in my time writing about the Black & Gold, I think the key however, will be discovering just how high the ceiling is for VCU's five to six best players.

VCU posted an impressive 66.3% true shooting percentage in the win over Shippensburg, doing so without the services of talented senior, Brandon Johns Jr. They did so while holding limiting the Raiders to a 46.4% true shooting percentage, a balanced victory that VCU will hope to continue and perhaps even improve on into regular season play.

Jalen DeLoach was a huge part of that success, finishing 75% of his attempts (a team-high 15 points) after and 80% performance in the Black & Gold game and perhaps more importantly, stayed on the court by limiting his fouls to just two over 22.5 minutes. DeLoach has an NBA ceiling perhaps, but as a freshman racked up over 8 fouls per 40 minutes. His ability to stay on the court could go a long way toward VCU's ultimate success this season.

The Rams appear to be loaded in the backcourt, with Ace Baldwin and Jayden Nunn one of the most dangerous returning backcourts in the Atlantic 10, but adding to that Michigan transfer, Zeb Jackson, an impressive and explosive options that makes up a bit of a three-headed monster for the Rams. The return of Jamir Watkins and additions of Fats Billups and David Shriver give VCU more versatile pieces, guys who can play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward (and perhaps point guard in Billups case). Add in the fact that even the bottom of VCU's roster is full of guys who COULD work their way into larger roles and posses tools that might have made them bigger pieces on previous VCU teams and you get an VCU squad just oozing with potential.

(Last year's numbers)[/HEADING=3]
Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">MAN 70.9, VCU 67.1</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 56.4, MAN 72.6</span>
Scoring Margin: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU +10.7, MAN -1.7</span>

Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 51.4%, MAN 48.3%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 44.9%, MAN 52.2%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 34.7%, MAN 29.9%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 27.8%, MAN 33.9%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 51.1%, MAN 50%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 45.9%, MAN 52.9%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">MAN 33.3, VCU 32.5</span>
Turnover% Offense:<span style="color: #ff0000;"> MAN 20.5%, VCU 21.9%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 24.7%, MAN 19.9%</span>

The Jaspers lost several key pieces with the firing of Masiello, but you could make a case that they actually return their best player (despite the hyper of Perez) in 6'8 center, Josh Roberts. Roberts was THE ONLY player on last year's team with a positive box +/- on the year and finished with a team-high (and REALLY good) 26.9 player efficiency rating (for comparison purposes, Bones Hyland's best at VCU was 23.7). Whether the St. John's transfer is ready to put the whole team on his back is another story, but one thing we saw in VCU's Black &amp; Gold exhibition, which combined with DeLoach's foul issues from last year, was the Rams' struggles defending the paint. So with that, I think the key really is slowing down the big man (his 134 offensive rating last year ranked 6th nationally) while being efficient themselves offensively. Do that and the Rams should outperform the kenpom expectations for this one and start their climb up the advanced metrics rankings.

Kenpom: 77-61 VCU loss with a 93% chance of a Rams victory.

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

Watch: The CW, ESPN+

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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Mat Shelton-Eide
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