Game Preview: VCU v Winthrop [INSIDER]

VCU welcomes the Eagles of Winthrop University to the Stu tonight in hopes of building a little non-conference momentum that will cary them into the Atlantic 10 season. It's a part of a three-game stretch spanning a six-day period that the black and gold are looking to turn into a three-game winning streak in what would be VCU's longest of the season after a brutal OOC schedule. Pat Kelsey and Co. from Rock Hill, SC are looking to play spoiler however and are looking to build some momentum of their own with the goal of taking their Big South squad back to the NCAA tournament after an appearance this past March, Kelsey's first as a head coach and the Eagles first since 2010.

VCU (6-5)

Not all that long ago Winthrop was one of the most dangerous mid-majors in college hoops. They were coached by a Randolph-Macon grad who led the Eagles to seven NCAA tournament appearances in nine seasons at the University before taking a job at Wichita State. That former Ashland, VA resident was obviously Gregg Marshall, one of college hoops' hottest coaches these past few years. Winthrop is hoping they've got another Marshall on their hands in sixth-year head coach Pat Kelsey, a former Xavier point guard who was announced as UMass' new head coach this past offseason before changing his mind just minutes before his introduction in one of the most bizarre coaching carousel stories of the offseason. With Kelsey back the Eagles are once again dreaming of NCAA tourney fun thanks to a roster that returns enough pieces to compete in the Big South for a crown. The question is is this a team that can compete outside of that conference? So far the answer has been no. Three of Winthrop's six wins have come against non-DI opponents, with two others coming against teams in the bottom-10 of college basketball's 351 teams. The Eagles one solid win came on the road at Furman (albeit a somewhat underrated win), taking Winthrop to 1-4 against the kenpom top-200 and 0-2 against top-100 teams. Winthrop nearly pulled off a big one just two games ago however, leading at kenpom No.76 Georgia late in the second half before letting a good one get away from them in the final two minutes. That game should be all Mike Rhoades and Co. need to have the Rams focused and not looking past Winthrop tonight. The Eagles are led by seniors Xavier Cooks (16.1 ppg, 8.9 rebs, 3.8 ast) and Anders Broman (14.1 ppg) on a team that goes about eight deep. They are small team, with the 6'8 185-pound Cooks and 6'8 200 doing most of the heavy lifting down low and a team that 100% will live and die by the three. The Eagles take just 29.7% of their attempts at the rim and 42.4% of their shots beyond the three-point line. They are a strong three-point shooting team, connecting on just over 40% of their threes this season thanks mostly to Broman (39.5% from three) and his brother Bjorn (43.8%), as well as high-volume junior Austin Awad, who's shooting 46.9% from three off the bench. Defensively Winthrop has offered little resistance this season, giving up at least 80 points in all four of their losses including 119 points surrendered in a loss at Auburn. They rank 268th nationally in effective field goal percentage defense at 53.7% and have the ability to get completely shredded inside the arc. Winthrop plays the 30th fastest pace in college basketball.

The Rams picked up a solid win on Saturday when outlasting kenpom No.10 Bucknell. VCU got 12 important points from recently returned Malik Crowfield in the 85-79 win and will hope to add another dangerous player soon with the return of Issac Vann as VCU looks to return to a full roster by A-10 play. Vann re-injured a high ankle sprain against Texas and missed the Bucknell game, but noticeably did so without a boot on that injured ankle. The duo both averaged top-5 minutes on VCU's team before going down to injury and both rank in the top-3 on VCU's team in total box plus/minus. Their absence however created some opportunity for others to shine and gain confidence, perhaps most noticeably freshman Marcus Santos-Silva who's taken advantage of the extended minutes via depth chart dominos. The Taunton, MA native has averaged eight points and seven rebounds 19 minutes per contest these last four games and posted 100+ offensive ratings in each of those contests. Santos-Silva's has looked like a defensive bright spot as well on a team that has struggled to defend all year, posting the third-highest defensive box plus/minus on this year's team. And it's an improved defense VCU needs most these days. The Rams inability to guard the paint has been this team's biggest weakness. The black and gold gave up an embarrassing 65.6% shooting inside the arc to Bucknell on Saturday and are allowing teams to connect on 55% of their attempts inside the arc this season, an achilles heel that is likely to catch a mention in these game previews all season long.

Scoring Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WIN 89.3, VCU 78.9</span>
Scoring Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 76.7, WIN 77.2</span>
Effective Field Goal% Offense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WIN 53.6%, VCU 52.8%</span>
Effective Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 53.6%, WIN 53.7%</span>
3-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WIN 38.5%, VCU 38.4%</span>
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 34.2%, WIN 38.6%</span>
2-Point Field Goal%: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WIN 50.9%, VCU 50.1%</span>

2-Point Field Goal% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WIN 51.7%, VCU 55%</span>
Rebounds per game: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WIN 38.7, VCU 36.5</span>
Turnover% Offense: <span style="color: #339966;">VCU 17.4%, WIN 17.8%</span>
Turnover% Defense: <span style="color: #ff0000;">WIN 21.2%, VCU 18.9%</span>

<span style="color: #000000;">VCU WINS IF</span>[/HEADING=3]
On paper everything suggests another shootout, BUT, for as much as VCU has struggled to defend this year, their three-point defense has been statistically pretty solid. That's good news against a Winthrop team that has leaned so heavily on the three. VCU's three-point defense is crucial tonight, but an improved two-point defense effort after back-to-back 60% or worse interior D would be insanely refreshing as well.

Kenpom: 88-78 VCU win with an 81% chance of a Rams victory.

Game tips at 7PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA

Watch: MASN, Official game day headquarters at Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
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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