Game Preview: VCU v Saint Louis [INSIDER]

After winning twelve straight the Rams suddenly find themselves in the midst of a losing streak, having dropped their last home game to George Washington followed by a major road letdown against a bad UMass team. The black and gold will look to right the ship today when welcoming Saint Louis to the Stu, a team the Rams previously beat by 16 in a road game.

VCU (17-7, 9-2)
SAINT LOUIS (8-15, 3-8)[/HEADING=3]

We've seen these guys before and they haven't changed much since the Rams Jan 10th win (I'll get to how they have in a second). After VCU handed SLU their second A-10 loss of the season, Saint Louis basically lost a bunch of games to teams that should have beaten them (Duquesne x2, Dayton, St. Bonaventure and Richmond) but threw in a home win over Davidson and a home blowout loss to George Mason just to keep us all guessing. The Bills dropped a season-high 96 on that Davidson team and also managed a road win at UMass (which hey, props from a VCU fan). They were also were on the verge of upsetting St. Bonaventure on the road -- what would've been a nice win -- before surrendering a late lead in an eventual three-point loss. Long story short, these guys are capable of doing exactly what UMass did to the Rams earlier this week but quite frankly shouldn't...IF the Rams play like the team that won twelve straight games including an earlier road blowout of SLU. Now, as for how they've changed: Jermaine Bishop. The Billikens freshman saw just two minutes when the Rams came to town earlier this season before seeing his playing time explode after that game. He scored 21 points the game after VCU and has posted two 20-point games over his last eight contests including a 23-point performance in their win over Davidson. Since playing VCU, Bishop is averaging 12.6 points per contest. Keep an eye out for a youngin' in a facemask during tonight's game because he could very well be a key piece in SLU's return to prominence.

After a tremendous start to A-10 play the Rams have hit a rough patch. How? Well because the offense fell off a cliff. The black and gold averaged 84.1 points per contest during their twelve-game win streak but couldn't manage over 69 these last two, scoring 69 in a loss to GW and 63 in this week's loss at UMass (65.5 points, so about 20 points less than what VCU was averaging during their win streak). Both games saw the opponent score 43 points in a half, GW in the second, UMass in the first, meaning VCU quite frankly couldn't afford the offensive drop because their defense wasn't ready to bail them out. The Colonials height kept the black and gold from being effective in the paint while it was the three-ball in the following game that doomed the Rams chances at yet another A-10 road win. Combine that with some spotty performances from VCU's backcourt and you get a team that just hasn't looked like itself lately. But here's why I remain optimistic: VCU has one of their best inside scoring teams in years. You know the old saying, "live by the three, die by the three"? Well they never said that about efficient inside scoring the arc, something the Rams have proven they are very good at this season. Even in the loss to UMass, the Rams shot 60% inside the arc, putting VCU at 52.3% during A-10 contests (second in the conference). That's a great number because it's a lot more dependable than a team that relies on the three-ball. A patient offense should be able to get the points back on the board -- and by patient I mean no hero-ball threes early in the shot clock -- meaning if the Rams can step up their defense, particularly of the three-ball (UMass hit their first eight threes Thursday night), they could start streaking once again.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 77.5, SLU 65.4</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 67.3, SLU 71.4</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 51.1%, SLU 46.9%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 49.7%, SLU 50.3%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 38.4%, UMass 32.6%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">SLU 32.9%, VCU 35.9%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 37, SLU 32.6</span>
Turnover Percentage Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 23.9%, SLU 18.8%</span>
Turnover Percentage Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 17%, SLU 19.4%</span>

I believe in VCU's offense. I think they underperformed at UMass but have a season full of data that tells me more often than not the Rams are going to score. Shots will fall, players will make smart plays and the offense SHOULD produce. So what I want to see is a commitment to defending in the halfcourt that is typically a one-half thing for this Rams team for some reason. The black and gold did that somewhat at SLU, holding the Billikens to just two first half field goals, but racked up 26 fouls on the night (some BS calls though, real talk). Defending without fouling in the days of "freedom of movement" is easier said than done but a solid attempt at doing so would certainly go a long way tonight.

The Billikens will need to do a good job of keeping the Rams out of the paint to pull off a road win tonight. VCU has struggled most when they've been ineffective inside the arc (GW, Cinci, FSU, GT) so SLU will need to be vastly improved inside the arc defensively tonight. Saint Louis currently ranks 257th nationally in two-point percentage D, which can be a recipe for disaster against the Rams. There's also that turnover thing. SLU ranks 250th nationally in turnover percentage offense and will be playing a road game against a VCU team who has the nation's fourth-ranked turnover D. That's a tough stat for Jim Crews and staff heading into this one.

Kenpom: 78-60 VCU win with an 95% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 6PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA.

Watch: CBS Sports Network, Official watch parties at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Listen: <a title="FM 107.3" href="">107.3FM</a>
Live Tweets:¬†@VCURamNation​

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Mat Shelton-Eide
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