Game Preview: VCU v Rhode Island [INSIDER]

VCU hopes to extend their winning streak to eight games tonight while snapping a losing streak in the process, looking to get over the hump against a Rhode Island squad that blanked the black and gold in their two meetings last season, losing by an average margin of 10.5 points in the series. The Rams of VCU are one of two A-10 teams currently undefeated in conference play, joining the nationally-ranked Saint Louis Billikens who are flawless via having yet to play a game.
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VCU (9-2, 2-0)

The Keaney blue Rams have played a brutal schedule all season long -- the nation's 31st toughest, according to kenpom -- and have carried that trend into Atlantic 10 action against a four-game slate that has consisted mostly of conference contenders. Rhody fell at home to Davidson to start conference action, 67-58, bounced back with a tough six-point win over a game St. Bonaventure squad, narrowly survived a winless St. Joe's Hawks squad that I think MIGHT be somewhat underrated, having played the nation's No.2 overall strength of schedule that includes only one team outside of the top-100 and recently fell at Richmond, 80-73.

The Rams have had to face this gauntlet as well with a team that is full of new faces. Only one starter returns from last season's team, explosive guard, Fatts Russell. Rhody graduated two key seniors in Jeff Dowtin and Cyril Langevine, then saw unexpected transfers from Jacob Toppin (to Kentucky), Tyrese Martin (to UConn) and Mehki Long (to ODU). Third-year head coach, David Cox, scrambled to fill their spots with a slew of transfers, landing 6'11 Maryland twins, Makhel Mitchell and Mahki Mitchell, the later of which will miss the season due to injury. He brought in former top-100 recruit by way of Syracuse transfer, Jalen Carey, added Richmond native and former John Marshall Justice, Jeremy Sheppard, a JUCO transfer after earning AAC All-Rookie team honors at ECU, brought in Malik Martin via Charlotte, brother of Rhody legend, Hassan Martin and got previous JUCO transfer, 6'7 DJ Johnson, available after sitting out his one year at URI.

All of these changes rank Rhody 291st nationally in minutes continuity from last season, a puzzle Cox and Co. have been attempting to solve all season.

So far Cox has opted for a very VCU-like deep bench approach that has seen 11 players average double-digit minutes on the season with only one, Fatts Russell, averaging over 20.

His approach and scheme so far has equaled a very familiar from Rhody strong D with stretches of offensive inconsistency. Turnovers have plagued the Rams all season long, ranking 208th nationally in turnover percentage offense which the Rams haven't helped themselves over come via a rebound advantage. URI ranks around 200th nationally in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage.

Really the only bit of consistency the Rams have had this season has been in defending the paint. URI has held opposing teams to 45.1% inside the arc, good for 52nd nationally, a number made more impressive when you consider the schedule the Rams have faced.

Player to watch: Antwon Walker - VCU fans are no doubt familiar with Fatts Walker and his explosive potential, but Georgetown transfer Antwon Walker has been the team's most consistent player this year. The 6'7 forward leads the team with his 19.8 player efficiency rating and a hyper-efficient 69.8% true shooting percentage, almost all of his scoring damage coming right next to the basket.

VCU rides a seven-game winning streak into todays' contest, their longest since they ended the 2018-19 season on a 12-game tear. Still, at times things have looked dicey over their last three.

The Rams saw a massive lead against JMU dwindle into a 1-point win over the nation's 252nd-ranked team according to kenpom, got down 9 early to St. Joe's before putting the pedal to the metal in the eventual 16-point win and trailed a struggling and underwhelming George Mason team at the half before pulling out a 5-point win. Overall, the Rams have made fans happy with wins, while leaving this Ram fan here feeling uneasy. A loss has felt imminent, but so does a game showcasing the Rams true potential. Which shows up today (or just the team doing enough to get by), remains to be seen.

One thing that could drastically improve VCU's ability to blow teams out is a return to form for star guard, Bones Hyland. The sophomore has averaged 15 points per contest his last three contest, but has been much colder than he's capable of running, posting a very un-Bones 87.3 offensive rating in conference play and an 84 in the JMU game the contest before that. What that means is on 100 offensive possessions, Hyland would average 87.3 points (or 0.87 points per possession). That is down significantly from last season's 109.7 conference o-rating and toward the bottom half of VCU's team in conference, posting a squad offensive rating of 102.5. Hyland has hit 4 of his last 19 threes (21%) during that stretch, so it feels like an explosive game from deep could be eminent, a bad sign surely for some upcoming opponent and quite possibly for Rhode Island today. The Wilmington, DE native is a career 40.8% three-point shooter.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 76.6, URI 72.9</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 64.3, URI 71.5</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 53.9%, URI 50.9%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 44.5%, URI 46.7%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 34.9%, URI 30.8%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 28.5%, URI 32.9%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 54.8%, URI 53.1%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 45.1%, VCU 45.5%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 37.2, VCU 34.5</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">URI 20.3%, VCU 20.5%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 25.6%, URI 18.1%</span>

If they wreak some havoc (high-turnovers forced) and hit threes.

VCU's last win against a Rhody team came back two seasons ago, a night the Rams won the turnover margin by +13 and outshot Rhody 40.7% to 18.2% beyond the three-point line. The other contests between these two saw VCU either narrowly win the turnover battle (+1, twice) or lose it (-4) and two of those contests were straight up rock fights the Keaney blue Rams came out on top in.

Don't win ugly. Joga Bonito. And that happens when Bones is being Bones again and when he's knocking down threes, VCU's dawgs start tasting blood.

Kenpom: 71-66 VCU win with a 68% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 2PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA

Watch: CBSSN

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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Licensed Virginia Realtor and part-time basketball writer. Co-founder of and
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Mat Shelton-Eide
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