Game Preview: VCU v Saint Louis [INSIDER]

Man'o'man, did VCU ramp up their degree of difficulty in regards to securing their second A-10 regular season championship in a three-year stretch under head coach Mike Rhoades, by dropping an unexpected home loss to George Mason this past weekend. VCU still sits tied atop the Atlantic 10 standings in terms of the new win percentage metric required to win such a title, but in comes preseason No.2, Saint Louis, looking to change all of that.

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VCU (16-5, 9-3)
SAINT LOUIS (11-4, 4-3)[/HEADING=3]

Returning so much talented and adding a bit on top of that, Saint Louis came into this season with high expectations. Notching a top-30 win their second game in against the Will Wade-led LSU Tigers seemed to validate that en route to a 6-0 start, but things got a bit tricky after that. The Billikens were swept by a Dayton team that seems to have their number, but added in a puzzling loss to La Salle to keep us all guessing. That, combined with a drastically reduced A-10 schedule via COVID, has Saint Louis more focused on a top-4 finish than first place and the crown. The Billikens can only top out at a 70% win percentage by winning all of their next three, which will make it extremely difficult to leapfrog the four teams ahead of them. Still, a top-4 double-bye finish and the easier path to a tourney crown that comes with that, will likely suffice.

Looking at the Billikens, clearly with some promising early results they have shown an ability to defeat any team currently playing in the Atlantic 10. SLU has a top-50 defense on the year and an offense that doesn't lag far behind (Bills rank 52nd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency).

Travis Ford's club is led by an experienced and talented senior trio. Jordan Goodwin is averaging a double-double at just 6'3, scoring 14.6 points per contest to go with 10.4 rebounds a night for Saint Louis. He's second on the team at 3.6. assist per night. Goodwin trails only Javonte Perkins' 17.1 points per game average. Perkins, a second year Billiken via JUCO transfer, is a walking bucket. The 6'6 wing is shooting over 41% from three on the season and takes almost a third of SLU's shots while on the floor. Those two are joined by former VCU target big man, Hassahn French. French is a capable scorer but sees most of his production on the glass and defensively, ranking 2nd in-conference in blocks percentage and top-4 in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage. He will no doubt be a load for a VCU team that was just out-rebounded by 16 by the George Mason Patriots.

Richmond native, Gibson Jimerson, has added some shooting punch to this year's Billikens after missing most of last season due to injury. He's a career 40.6% three-point shooter and is chipping in 9.9 points a night his sophomore season.

Yuri Collins and Demarius Jacobs are two other players to watch. Collins runs the point and is averaging 6.2 assists per contest, while Jacobs, a 6'2 junior, is giving SLU some efficient glue guy minutes off the bench.

You're familiar with the Rams by now, but might not have heard that VCU will be without Bones Hyland (sprained foot) for tonight's contest. That presents a huge challenge for an already mediocre Rams offense that coming into this one ranks 8th in A-10 offensive efficiency.

Hyland's injury coupled with the recent dismissal of Tre Clarke means VCU will play tonight's game without what were their No.1 and No.2 shooting guard options to start the season, and two of VCU's most efficient players to boot. So what happens? The little-played Josh Banks could see more of a role tonight, while KeShawn Curry and freshman Jamir Watkins stained to see the biggest boost in role.

Curry ranks 10th on VCU's team in player efficiency rating compared to Hyland who will rest on the bench with the team's No.1 PER. Watkins ranks 6th in that stat and has the team's 6th best true shooting percentage (5th if you excluded Tre Clark from that discussion) while Curry checks in at 7th.

But the giant loss is in VCU's ability to stretch the floor and have another point guard option. Hyland was VCU's No.2 point guard option behind freshman Ace Baldwin and ranks second on the team in three-point percentage at 38.1% but No.1 in makes at 64 on the season. Hyland's newest backups shooting guards are Curry who is a career 24.6% three-point shooter (33.3% though this season) and Banks, a 11.8% career three-point shooter.

It will be interesting to see how VCU addresses this major issue tonight.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">SLU 76.9, VCU 73.2</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">SLU 64.4, VCU 65.2</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">SLU 52.1%, VCU 51.3%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 45.5%, SLU 47%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">SLU 44.3%, VCU 33.6%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 29.4%, SLU 32.9%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">SLU 52.4%, VCU 51.7%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">SLU 45.5%, VCU 46.2%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">SLU 38.8, VCU 34.7</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">SLU 16.9%, VCU 21.2%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 24.3%, SLU 21.1%</span>

You see all that red up there? Those numbers were with A-10 Player of the Year candidate, Bones Hyland. I'll be real with you fam, this is about the lowest expectations I've had for VCU in a single game all season. It was a bad matchup with Bones and a horrible matchup without, so how do we notch a W in it? Defense.

SLU is coming off a 23-point loss to Dayton on a night the Billikens were held to 27.1% shooting. Can VCU replicate such a defensive performance (with a little help from Saint Louis, hopefully) and get just enough offense to pull off the upset? We'll know soon enough.

Also my personal wish for this one is to just let Jamir Watkins loose. Let this be the ultimate Jamir confidence game...talking NEON green light. Worst case scenario VCU loses with a more confident Jamir. Best case the A-10 is introduced to a new serious future threat.

Kenpom: 70-67 VCU win with a 60% chance of a Rams victory*

*Doesn't account for the Bones injury

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

Watch: CBS 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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