Game Preview: VCU v No.15 West Virginia

VCU tipped up their Crossover Classic week in the win column last night with an upset victory against Utah State that turned into a late-game blowout thanks to some good old fashioned havoc. That defensive effort may feel like looking into a mirror this afternoon when the Rams take on Bob Huggins' "Press Virginia" defense, a D that ranked third in all of college basketball this past season. At stake is what would be a huge W for the black and gold and a trip to this year's Crossover Classic title game.

VCU (1-0)

The Mountaineers return an extremely experienced group and with that, have high expectations this season under the reigns of their 14th-year Hall of Fame coach. WVU used a stingy defense to finish top-10 nationally last season according to kenpom, turning teams over at a very high right and shutting them down in the half court when they weren't able to produce turnovers. That, combined with a high free throw rate for what was a poor shooting team on the year, led WVU to their 21-win season and what would've been yet another NCAA tournament bid had such a thing existed this past March.

The Mountaineers played an extremely deep bench in the highly-competitive Big 12 last season, seeing 10 players average double-digit minutes and no player dominating the scoring. Returning leading scorer and rebounder, Oscar Tshiebwe (11.2 ppg, 9.3 rebs) is back, but despite starting played just 14 minutes due to foul trouble in WVU's fairly competitive matchup yesterday against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The 6'9 260 sophomore saw his name mentioned in the Naismith National Player of the Year watch list to start the season and was an Athlon Sports Third-Team All American heading into the season. He was joined yesterday by fellow sophomore, Miles McBride, who paced the Mountaineers with a game-high 23 points in the win. Similar to VCU's lineup yesterday, WVU used a ton of their bench in the win, seeing 10 players post double-digit minutes in their first round contest.

WVU may not have a 7' player like the Rams had to deal with in Utah State last night, but start a huge front court that goes 6'7, 6'9 (255) and 6'10 (260) in the front court. Despite the fact, West Virginia only won yesterday's rebound battle by four total boards.

The Mountaineers turned the ball over a total of just three times in last night's win, a massive improvement (albeit in a one-game sample) from last season's 297th-ranked turnover offense.

With so many pieces to replace from last season's experienced group and with no preseason scrimmage or exhibition to help figure out a rotation prior to the official start to the season, Mike Rhoades and Co. threw the kitchen sink at the Aggies in their season-opening win and got production basically from top to bottom (note: sophomore Jarren McAllister sat out the contest with a minor injury. A source tells he may be able to give it a go today). A total of 12 Rams saw the court, 10 of which played at least nine minutes and only KeShawn Curry and Bones Hyland logged more than 30 minutes in the win. Hyland led the Rams in scoring after an electric start and every single Ram who hit the court scored in the win.

Overall it was a competitive contest against a game Utah State team who came in the favorite into the night, but a little late havoc blew things wide open, helping VCU outscore the Aggies 27-6 over the final 10 minutes of play. VCU got 18 of those final 27 at either the free throw stripe or inside an arc in a contest that early on looked as if the Rams were going to live or die by the three. VCU shot 52.8% overall in the win, but when taking into account VCU's three-point accuracy and free throws, averaged out to an impressive 67.8% true shooting percentage.

There's definitely some press pride at stake in today's Thanksgiving matchup, so even if turnover margin doesn't play a huge role in deciding today's contest, that sure would be a nice side battle to win. West Virginia simply shut teams down last season, so VCU's ability to find some efficient scoring, particularly inside, will go a long way toward determining how likely an upset would be in today's battle. While VCU shot 62.1% inside the arc in last night's win, the Ram's four centers (Douglas, Stockard, Ward and Medley-Bacon) combined for a total 13 points in their combined 43 minutes of action. To be fair, while they didn't score a ton, for the most part they didn't take many bad shots either. Still, we know depending on three-point efficiency can be like a game of Russian roulette, so I think finding more ways to get easy buckets could be crucial today, especially against a West Virginia team that really struggled offensively last year. On that note, those same VCU bigs will need to attack the glass defensively. WVU couldn't throw a beach ball into the ocean most of last season, but their No.1 national ranking in offensive rebound percentage helped make that less of a killer. Can't allow a ton of second-chance points today.

Kenpom: 75-66 VCU loss with a 20% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 2:30PM at Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, SD

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Mat Shelton-Eide
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