Game Preview: VCU v Radford

After back-to-back losses the VCU Rams are looking to string together some wins to take a little momentum into conference play. The black and gold started things off with a shaky win against an outmatched Howard squad, but are looking to show improvement against a Radford team that is hoping to move to 2-0 against that Atlantic 10 after a double-digit win over George Washington earlier in the year. Will the Rams have Ace? Will Brandon Johns ball out on his birthday? We are hours from finding out!

VCU RAMS (6-4)

The Highlanders out of the Big South Conference are hoping to come in to the Siegel Center tonight and pull off an upset after a pair of of upset opportunities slipped away from them to start the year. Shaka Smart's Marquette Golden Eagles were able to hang on to a 10-point home win over Radford to start the season, then the Highlanders put a scare into Notre Dame before ultimately falling just short in the 79-76 loss back in November. Those games perhaps showed second-year coach, Darris Nichols, just where his team's ceiling could be, while recent losses to both William and Mary and VMI showed him their floor.

That inconsistency makes Radford a dangerous wild card when they tip it up with the Rams this evening.

The Highlanders have struggled a bit when it comes to halfcourt defense, but on offense has a group that has managed to limit turnovers and efficiently hit shots (41st-ranked effective field goal percentage offense). Neither of those things are particular strengths of VCU and with the Rams defense reeling a bit these past few games, alarm bells should no doubt be ringing in the ears of every player, coach and Ram fan planning to attend tonight's contest.

Radford plays a fairly deep bench and spreads out their scoring, but so far are led by freshman, Kenyon Giles, the 5'11 guard currently chipping in a team-best 12.2 points in his 22.8 minutes per contest with a dangerous 44.1% 3p%. Giles has been coming off the bench, but gives Radford a serious spark once he hits the floor. He's joined by a relatively experienced remaining core that boast two juniors and one senior chipping in double-digits per contest as well.

While the offense has been greatly improved from last season, the Highlander defense has yet to see the same amount of improvement. Radford checks in at 232nd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and are giving up 53.4% scoring inside the arc to their opponents, which ranks 284th nationally. VCU finished 61.3% of their twos against Howard and 58.3% in the loss to Jacksonville, so if there's one great matchup for the black and gold in tonight's contest, that very well could be it, making for a potentially promising night for birthday boy, Brandon Johns.

While turnovers and three-point shooting have been glaring weaknesses for the Rams this season, it's worth noting VCU hasn't out-rebounded a team since November 12th when they hung a +5 rebound margin on hapless Morgan St. That is an underrated flaw to be aware of, which when combined with VCU's inconsistent shooting and turnover-prone offense really ramps of the degree of difficulty for the black and gold on a nightly basis.

The Rams have also battled injuries all year. VCU was without Ace Baldwin in the win against Howard, making five missed games for the start point guard. In the game prior, Ace was in the lineup, but the Rams were without big man Jalen DeLoach, helping Jacksonville's 6'11 center to go on to score 17 points against the black and gold.

When VCU is healthy and when they are playing their core group though...VCU has the potential to do big things.

The Twitter handle @A10Stats tweeted how each team's most frequently used lineups faired while on the court. VCU's most frequently used group of Ace Baldwin, Jayden Nunn, Jamir Watkins, Brandon Johns Jr. and Jalen DeLoach was the fourth most efficient group in the Atlantic 10. VCU's most frequently played group however, has played just 40.38 minutes on the entire season (out of 400 total minutes played). In that roughly one full game of action, the quintet outscored their opponent by 22 points while posting an offensive rating of 1112 (VCU's team offensive rating is 99.3) and a defensive rating of 83.67 (95.1 on the year) for a net rating of +29.33. On the season VCU's adjusted efficiency margin as a team sits at just +4.19.

Note: UConn is the No.1 team in the nation right now according to kenpom with a season adjusted efficiency margin of +29.52. VCU ranks No.125 currently at +4.19.

Will Mike Rhoades go full Mark Schmidt (which is to say only play his best players) anytime soon and abandon the "army" concept? Don't bet on it. But it is nice to see there may be a level of potential there that Ram fans have yet to see with VCU being without both Ace and DeLoach and with playing such a deep bench (currently 90th in the nation in bench minutes).

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">RU 77.1, VCU 65.8</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 64.4, JU 65.9</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">RU 54.8%, VCU 47.2%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 47.5%, RU 53.7%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 36.4%, RU 29.3%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 33.2%, RU 36.2%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">RU 54.9%, VCU 49.5%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 46.4%, RU 53.4%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">RU 33.5, VCU 32</span>
Turnover% Offense:<span style="color: #ff0000;"> RU 16.7%, VCU 22.5%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 25.5%, RU 20%</span>

Efficient scoring has been an issue for the black and gold all year, but there does appear to be an opportunity down low for the Rams (feed the birthday boy!). VCU has also proven capable of getting hot from distance, but have shot under 24% from distance in their last two, so being due there wouldn't hurt either.

Ultimately though I think those hustle stats could decide the game. Radford has done well as not turning it over, while also doing a decent job of turning teams themselves, which is one of those red alert stats for me heading into tonight's contest. If VCU can't limit turnovers and rebound like they usually do, it may not matter how well the black and gold score in the paint. This could be one of those Jacksonville-like nights that sets the message board and Twitter on fire. Let's hope that's not the case though and that VCU can put together a complete game for the first time in a long time so Brandon Johns can get the birthday celebration he deserves.

Kenpom: 73-63 VCU win with an 81% chance of a Rams victory.

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


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Mat Shelton-Eide
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