Game Preview: VCU v Pitt - Legends Classic Consolation Game

VCU looks to bounce back after dropping a disappointing contest against Arizona State last night, a game the Rams led for the majority of the contest, but after an abysmal second of shooting, saw the black and gold end up on the losing end. The consolation prize? A matchup with former Rams head coach, Jeff Capel, and his equally hurting Pitt Panthers, an ACC opponent coming off a 31-point blowout loss to the Michigan team two of VCU's key transfers played for just this past season.

VCU (2-1)

Let's start with the headline: Pitt is coach by the very Jeff Capel that many would claim sorta kicked off the Rams run of success we've all gotten used to, the same Jeff Capel that recruited Eric Maynor to Broad St, but like many VCU coaches after him, would leave shortly after to chase P5 dreams and a larger paycheck. Outside of a two-year batch of success thanks to the extreme talent of Blake Griffin, it's been an honestly abysmal head coaching display from Capel since leaving VCU. Following a success-filled time as an assistant at his alma mater, Duke Blue Devils, from 2011 to 2018, Capel jumped at another head coach opportunity in-conference with the Pitt Panthers. Since landing the gig, Capel has posted four losing seasons in his four years at Pitt and Panther fans might be fearing more of the same after the Panthers have lost their last two contests by an average margin of 28 points.

Pittsburgh has an experienced group built largely from the transfer portal. They have limited minutes continuity from this past season thanks to that, a season they finished 11-21 and with the 243rd-ranked offense in the country with only a mediocre defense to help on the other side of the ball.

They have been led so far this season by Ol Miss transfer, Blake Hinson. Blake last played back in 2020 and has wasted no time in making up for lost shot attempts in the time between, accounting for about 30% of Pittsburgh's attempts early this season and averaging a team-high 15 points to go with his team-leading 7.3 rebounds. He joins fifth-year senior, Jamrius Burton (13.3 ppg), in the teams double-digit scoring club. Burton is off to an efficient start for Pitt, but has a history of struggling with efficiency somewhat. Greg Elliot rounds out that group (11.7 ppg), making his way to Pitt this year via transfer from Shaka Smart's Marquette team. Elliot is a knockdown shooter who can catch fire on the right night and will have one of the purest strokes on the floor this evening.

Overall Pittsburgh has just really struggled on both sides of the ball, but have done so against two tough teams in Michigan and West Virginia. Those blowout losses followed a blowout regular season opener win against Tennessee Martin, 80-58. Last year's Panthers struggled in virtually every aspect of the game, but did a solid job of rebounding and drew a ton of fouls on the offensive end.

Losing Ace Baldwin for the next few weeks has ramped up the degree of difficulty for a team getting used to so many new pieces.

Even with Baldwin, the Rams offense had it's issues, but without him we saw just how torturous the black and gold offense could be, that being highlighted by VCU's 17.39% shooting in the second half of last night's contest.

To really hammer the point home while pouring salt on my own wound, consider this: VCU's current adjusted offensive efficiency of 99.4 is the worst offensive rating for a VCU team since kenpom has been keeping the stat (dating back to the 2001-2002 season). The Rams 49.3% effective field goal percentage is the worst since the 2014-15 season, which combined with VCU's 25.1% turnover rate (meaning VCU turns the ball over one of every four trips down the court...another kenpom worst for VCU), just absolutely limits the Rams' ceiling and makes ANY game for VCU a trap game and a potential loss.

One challenge for the Rams is that two of their highest potential players and most efficient shooters, Jalen DeLoach and Jamir Watkins, have struggled early with turnovers. DeLoach's 39.8% turnover rate has absolutely tanked his overall box +/- to -7.5, the second worst on the team. Coach Rhoades has demonstrated little confidence in his freshman backup options early, meaning the Rams seem on track to go as DeLoach goes early, especially without Baldwin's ability to provide one more go-to option on the floor for the black and gold.

Some VCU Bright spots: Despite his turnover rate, Watkins has been solid in almost every other aspect for the Rams, as has Brandon Johns Jr. The Michigan transfer leads the team in offensive rating, true shooting percentage and offensive plus minus and can be a difference maker whenever his teammates learn to limit turnovers themselves.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 67, PITT 65.3</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 57.7, PITT 76.7</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 49.3%, PITT 46.4%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 43.5%, PITT 53.1%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 31.8%, PITT 26.2%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 28.3%, PITT 33.3%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">PITT 53.7%, VCU 50.6%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 44%, PITT 54.6%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">PITT 36, VCU 35.7</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">PITT 22.1%, VCU 25.1%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 27.8%, PITT 16%</span>

I think the key could be the turnover battle, VCU needing to win that comfortably to pull off the victory, but I also think a mature, clean game from Jalen DeLoach would go long way toward the Rams escaping Brooklyn without an ugly 0-2 finish.

Heading into this season I really thought DeLoach had the potential to be a net upgrade over the Hason Ward/Levi Stockard combo. The thought was Ward was great defensively, but spotty offensively with a limited post game, while Levi was the exact opposite (questionable defensively, but a nice post game on offense). DeLoach seemed to have the right combo of motor, passion, hoops IQ, post game, length/physical ability and overall talent to replace that duo, but his combination of six fouls per 40 minutes (also two technical fouls in three games so far) and 39.8% turnover rate has just been a killer. A -7.5 box +/- from one of your go-to guys makes it sooo much harder to win games.

He is just so much better than he's showing right now, I know it. When he shows it, the Rams will be a much better team and hopefully that starts tonight.

Kenpom: 68-66 VCU win with a 57% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 7PM at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY

Watch: 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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