Game Preview: VCU v No.23 Northern Iowa

[caption id="attachment_13496" align="alignright" width="199"]<a href=""><img class="wp-image-13496 size-medium" src="" alt="VCU will need a big night from freshman Justin Tillman to overcome a Northern Iowa squad led by 6'8 senior star, Seth Tuttle." width="199" height="300" /></a> VCU will need a big night from freshman Justin Tillman to overcome a Northern Iowa squad led by 6'8 senior star, Seth Tuttle.[/caption]

It feels like it's been a year since the Rams last played. VCU fell in a rare home loss to No.6 UVA, snapping a 22-game home winning streak at the Siegel Center in front of yet another sold out crowd. It was a bitter pill to savor for a full week away from the court but the Rams have a chance to start a new streak against another ranked team, this time versus No.23 Northern Iowa. VCU lost at Northern Iowa last season, 77-68 in Cedar Falls. The Rams have lost three of their last five while UNI has won nine straight to start the season.

VCU (5-2)

Picked second in the Missouri Valley after a Wichita State team coming off a 35-1 season, Northern Iowa returns much of the talent that dealt the Rams a tough road loss last season. 6'8 240lb senior, Seth Tuttle, is once again averaging 15+ points for the Panthers for the second consecutive season. The Sheffield, IA native is as well-rounded of a player as the Rams will face this season and leads a team that mirrors his balanced game. The Panthers are the 50th most experienced team in the country and a top-60 team on both offense (No.26 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency) and defense (No.56 in Adj. defensive efficiency). UNI hasn't played the most challenging schedule (259th toughest SOS) but have faced a number of familiar foes. The Panthers blasted Virginia Tech earlier this season, escaped Stephen F Austin in overtime, defeated Richmond by five at home and just recently out-lasted George Mason in an overtime home win. UNI has a knack for getting to the free throw line so it will be up to VCU to wreak havoc in the cleanest way possible Saturday night.

After a hot start to the season the Rams have cooled off considerably. VCU has had some success turning teams over but outside of that not much else has gone right for the black and gold. VCU has struggled to capitalize on forced turnovers due to some ice-cold shooting and when they aren't turning teams over have been miserable at defending in the halfcourt, most recently allowing the Wahoos of UVA to connect on a ridiculous 73.3% of their attempts inside the three-point line (not to mention 54.5% outside of it). All three of VCU's last three opponents have connected on over 50% of their three-point attempts, helping the Rams check in at 327th nationally out of 351 teams in 3-point defense, down about 300 from last year's team that ranked 30th nationally. VCU has quite frankly been bad on both sides of the ball in the halfcourt and will have their hands full with a Northern Iowa squad who's been just the opposite.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 74.8, UNI 67.4</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UNI 55.2, VCU 70.2</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UNI 54.4%, VCU 49.5%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UNI 45%, 54.8%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UNI 37.2%, VCU 34.5%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">UNI 30.1%, VCU 40.8%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 35.6, UNI 32.9</span>
Turnover Percentage Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 25.5%, UNI 19.8%</span>
Turnover Percentage Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 17%, UNI 19.6%</span>

VCU wins if they hit shots like they showed they could do to start the season while making less bonehead mistakes on defense. How they do the first part of that I do not know. I thought VCU actually got good looks against UVA but shots just didn't fall. I trust they will fall in time with a roster as deep and talented as we've ever seen at VCU. The second part however I think comes from playing a more team-oriented defense. I saw a number of guys gamble against UVA, gambles that were lost and quickly turned into easy UVA points. The steals are fun but a tough in-your-face halfcourt defense is what wins you games.

I mentioned UNI's ability to get to the stripe for the free ones and they did just that against the Rams last season in a 9-point win. Northern Iowa got to the free throw line for 28 attempts to VCU's 12 last season, drawing 25 Ram fouls while committing just 15 themselves. Whistles over turnovers, that's a great start for a UNI win. They'll also need to win the battle in the paint. The Panthers gave VCU absolutely nothing last season down low, limiting VCU to 35% shooting (while shooting 66.6% themselves) inside the arc while out-rebounding the Rams by nine. That was a team with senior Juvonte Reddic and 5th-year senior transfer, Terrance Shannon. Mo will need a serious effort from guys like Justin Tillman or the Rams could be in trouble for the second consecutive time in the Siegel Center. predicts a 67-64 Rams win with a 63% chance of a VCU victory.

When: 7PM
Where: The Stuart C Siegel Center, Richmond, VA.
Watch: NBC Sports Network. Official watch parties at Baja Bean Co. in the Fan as well as Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Listen: 107.3FM
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation​

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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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