Game Preview: VCU v Toledo

[caption id="attachment_13379" align="alignright" width="199"]<a href=""><img class="size-medium wp-image-13379" src="" alt="Melvin Johnson has led the Rams in scoring in both their exhibition opener (20 pts) and regular season opener (23)." width="199" height="300" /></a> Melvin Johnson has led the Rams in scoring in both their exhibition opener (20 pts) and regular season opener (23).[/caption]

VCU takes on a very underrated Toledo Rockets team in the Rams' home opener Tuesday night at the Siegel Center. The black and gold are coming off a relatively easy neutral court win over a rebuilt Tennessee Vols squad while Toledo hits the road for the first time this season after a 13-point home W over Northern Arizona. ESPNU will be in the building in a rare 6PM start on Broad St.

#15 VCU (1-0)
Toledo (1-0)[/HEADING=3]

The Rockets are an experienced team coming off a 27-win season that ended with a first round NIT loss at the hands of Southern Miss (coincidentally coached by the Bobby Tyndall who just lost to VCU with his new team, Tennessee). Gone is second leading scorer Rian Pearson (14.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), back is essentially everyone else (six of their top seven scorers from last season's squad). Last year that group ranked as one of the best offensive teams in the country, boasting a 113.2 offensive rating (31st nationally) due a good bit in part to their 14.7% turnover ration, good for 13th nationally. The biggest knock against last season's Rockets however was a defense that was almost as bad as their offense was good. Toledo's 109.1 adjusted defensive efficiency ranked 255th nationally with an effective defensive FG% of 52.6% that ranked 299th out of 351 D1 programs. The other knock might be their schedule. Toledo played three kenpom top-100 teams this past season, defeating No.88 Cleveland State 71-67 in a December home game, then losing at No.12 Kansas by 10, followed by a season-ending NIT loss to No.56 Southern Miss. The last time I was encouraged by anything similar was against a team named "Stephen F  Austin", as I confidently wrote a game preview several hours before finding myself in a fetal position in a San Diego hotel room after a 75-77 VCU NCAA tournament loss. Proceed with caution, Ram fans.

The Rams pulled of a neutral court win over a talented but rebuilt Tennessee team, doing so despite playing without senior point guard and reigning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Briante Weber, not to mention that game's starting point guard, JeQuan Lewis, who went down in the first half after sustaining a serious head injury. The Rams did most of their damage in the first half, outscoring Tennessee by 48-30 to start the game, getting 20 first half points from junior guard Melvin Johnson. VCU saw the Vols get no closer than 8 but were outscored in the second half, 39-37. The biggest question mark coming into this season was finding a way for the Rams to replace the production of starting center, Juvonte Reddic. His replacement, Mo Alie-Cox, posted five points (all of which came from the free throw line), but that didn't manage to stop the black and gold from hanging 85 on the Vols. The Rams scored 85 or more points in regulation just five times this past season. There's no word yet on Lewis' status for Tuesday's game but Weber will return after finishing a three game suspension that started in the preseason.

Scoring Offense: VCU 85, Toledo 71
Scoring Defense: Toledo 58, VCU 69
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 49.2%, Toledo 47.1%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: Toledo 37.9%, VCU 45.6%
3-Point Field Goal%: Belmont 37.7%, VCU 31.4%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 37.9%, Toledo 25%
Rebounds per game: VCU 49, Toledo 38
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 25.1%, Toledo 24%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 23.7%, Toledo 24%

For starters, keeping the fouls well below the 28 registered against Tennessee will certainly help. VCU's guards will need to do a great job of keeping the talented Rockets backcourt in check without sending them to the line for as many free ones as Tennessee saw -- easier said than done against versatile Toledo guard, Julius "Juice" Brown. Teams have had success against VCU when they've been able to hold on to the ball and last season Toledo was one of the best in the country at doing so, so VCU's backcourt will need to have an exceptional game defensively. The Rockets had a tough time on D last year, particularly defending the paint, so if VCU can continue their scoring spree (92 points against Cal U, 85 against Tennessee) by attacking the basket, the Rams could earn a nice OOC RPI win against a VERY talented Toledo Rockets squad.

The Rockets have what teams have needed to beat VCU under Shaka Smart: an experienced and talented backcourt. VCU's Briante Weber is arguably the best defender in the country but he'll have his hands full in his first game back against the 5'10 Juice Brown, a guard who has the moves and quickness to blow by defenders but is also a threat from range (hit 35.5% of his 166 3-point attempts last season). The 6'4 Justin Drummund and 6'6 Ohio State transfer, JD Weatherspoon, join Brown as returning double digit scorers from last season's team so the Rockets have the pieces to handle a chaotic Siegel Center on opening night (Weatherspoon is freakishly athletic, reminds me almost of a thinned down Charles Barkley). Toledo will need to keep VCU from matching them offensively to escape Richmond with a hard-earned W. The Rockets gave up 87 or more points in four of their seven losses this past season.

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

Watch: ESPNU, Official watch parties at Baja Bean Co. in the Fan as well as 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:¬†<a title="@VCURamNation" href="">@VCURamNation</a>​

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Mat Shelton-Eide
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