Game Preview: VCU v Rhode Island - Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals [INSIDER]

VCU and Rhode Island tip it up for the third time this season, the teams splitting the previous two matchups, but VCU getting the last laugh in a 34-point rout at the Siegel Center. Today's rubber match will be the most important of the series however, with the top-seeded VCU Rams looking for some A-10 tourney hardware to match their regular season champs rings and Rhode Island simply looking to keep their season alive.
<h4>VCU (25-6, 16-2)
RHODE ISLAND (17-4, 9-9)</h4>
The defending A-10 tournament champs have knocked VCU out of the last two A-10 tournaments, but have seen the bulk of the pieces from those two groups go on to start their professional careers, not to mention the coach of those teams, Dan Hurley, taking off for the gig at UConn. With such a large amount of attrition, Rhode Island finds themselves very much in the same position as last season's VCU Rams, complete with 9-9 A-10 finish and the eighth seed in the conference tournament.

The tables have turned quite a bit in this matchup, but both teams will ride win streaks into today's A-10 quarterfinals , Rhody one of the give-game variety, VCU a 12-game streak that hasn't seen a loss since January. Both Rams are playing some of their best basketball of the season.

Rhode Island made easy work of La Salle in yesterday's 8 v 9 battle, leading the Explorers by as many as 30 points before cruising to a 76-57 win. URI hit a strong 37.5% of their threes in that contest, an area this year's Rhody Rams have struggled with to say the least (they ranks last in all of college hoops in 3-point shooting), but an area that's seen improvement during this recent streak.

Rhode Island 3-point%s During 5-Game Win Streak (27.8% season average)

v La Salle 37.5%
v UMass 27.3%
at St. Joe's 42.3%
at Dayton 31.8%
v GW 47.6%

That entire streak has seen the good side of Fatts Russell, the sophomore posting 105+ offensive ratings in each game and adding 24.8 points per game for the Rams during the run. That follows a stretch of eight games where Russell posting 100+ o-ratings just once, a 2-6 stretch of Rhody's season that did however include a home win over VCU.

Russell is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the team whereas 6'8 junior center, Cyril Langevine has been URI's Mr. Consistency.

Langevine has averaged a 14.9-point, 10-rebound double-double season average and hasn't seen a single-digit scoring night since Feb 2. The junior ranks second in the A-10 in total rebound percentage (to our very own Marcus Santos-Silva) and checks in at fifth in the league in blocks percentage, making him one of the best big men in this year's Atlantic 10.

The Keaney Blue Rams are led by junior guard, Jeff Dowtin, arguably the teams most efficient player. Dowtin is averaging 15.6 points and shooting 50% from three during Rhody's current five-game winning streak.
As impressive as Rhody's recent play as been, that's been almost the entire season for VCU. the Rams have won their last twelve contests since losing at Rhody (a game VCU led by 10 in the first half and six at halftime) and won eight of those by double-digits including that 34-point throttling of Rhode Island the last time these two met. The black and gold have won with a lockdown defense, but one that has actually surrendered more points than their season average allowed (61.2) in three of their last four. VCU narrowly escaped Saint Louis (at home by six) and Richmond (on the road by 3), but through in a 35-point road destruction of George Mason just to keep A-10 foes worried.

VCU brings the fifth-best defense in the country into today's matchup and an offense that has risen to third in A-10 conference games. The Rams' A-10 efficiency margin is a ridiculous +19.8, even better than their season-long margin of +16.57.

That's how you win 12 consecutive games and your coach grabs Atlantic 10 coach of the year honors.

What VCU did not grab in terms of accolades was a spot for any of their players on this year's Atlantic 10 All-Defensive team, despite the elite level defense. I'm curious to see how VCU reacts to that snub in this afternoon's matchup against Rhode Island.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 71.5, URI 69.9</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 61.2, URI 67.8</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 50.7%, URI 47.6%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 42.9%, URI 48.9%</span>

3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 30.6%, URI 27.8%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 27.4%, URI 32.2%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 54.1%, URI 50.5%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 43.8%, URI 49.3%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 36.8, URI 36.3</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 17.8%, VCU 20.1%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 23.6%, URI 20.3%</span>
<h4>VCU WINS IF</h4>
The difference for the black and gold in their loss in Kingston wasn't a random hot night from three for Rhode Island, but the rock fight stats you'd expect to play a part in a matchup like this. The two teams combined to hit just three total three-pointers and neither really lit it up inside either. Rhody got the win however, by outrebounding VCU by five and turning the ball over four fewer times. URI turned those extra possessions into 10 additional field goal attempts and one more free throw in the eventual 71-65 Rhode Island win.

VCU needs to play like the swarm of bees you'd expect the nation's No.5 defense to look like after getting completely shutout of their conferences All-Defensive team, be patient on offense and win the hustle stats as well.

Kenpom: 69-59 VCU win with a 80% chance of a VCU Rams victory.

Game tips at noon at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY

Watch: NBC Sports Network
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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