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VCU Rams

The MEAC blowout portion of UVA's schedule is over, and the rest of December sees a 4-game set of winnable but respectable step up in competition, starting with a fearless VCU squad coming off another power conference road upset.

Game Details:

Date/Time:Sunday, December 9th, 1:30 pm ET
Location:John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
TV:ACC

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:UVA -15, O/U 124
TAPE:Ranks VCU #117, predicts a 65-46 UVA win, 96% confidence
KenPom:Ranks VCU #101, predicts a 69-53 UVA win, 93% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#2 Marcus Evans, 6'2" 190, JR
23.4 mpg, 14.3 ppg, 2.0 apg, .261 3P%
SG#0 De'Riante Jenkins, 6'5" 195, JR
28.9 mpg, 9.9 ppg, 1.6 apg, .364 3P%
SF#23 Issac Vann, 6'6" 210, JR
29.1 mpg, 12.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, .394 FG%
PF#4 Corey Douglas, 6'8" 215, SO
19.8 mpg, 3.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, .414 FG%
C#14 Marcus Santos-Silva, 6'7" 250, SO
22.7 mpg, 7.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, .540 FG%
Key Reserves
G#13 Malik Crowfield, 6'4" 195, JR
18.6 mpg, 3.9 ppg, 1.0 apg, .346 3P%
G/F#1 Mike'L Simms, 6'5" 210, JR
20.7 mpg, 6.1 ppg, 1.0 apg, .364 3P%
G/F#10 Vince Williams, 6'6" 210, FR
13.6 mpg, 4.0 ppg, 0.7 apg, .000 3P%
F/C#5 Sean Mobley, 6'8" 225, SO
19.5 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, .296 FG%

 

The ABC's of VCU:

A) Marcus Evans is their anointed star. Evans was one of the most sought-after transfers on the market in the summer of 2017, after he'd made the all-CUSA first team as both a freshman and a sophomore. He followed his Rice head coach to VCU that offseason, and after two ACL surgeries during his redshirt period, the point guard is finally playing again. So far he's proving himself a volume scorer, in double digits in every game except his first, with a high of 21. That somewhat belies a few struggles, such as his 26% 3P%, or his poor A:TO as a point guard (18:24 on the year). He is chipping in 2 steals a game, and getting to the FT line for about 6 attempts a night. All told, he will look to be the Rams' leader in this one.

B) It may or may not be HAVOC, but they're still a fierce, turnover-based defense. So far on the year, VCU's fielded one of the nation's toughest defenses, ranked 14th by KenPom in adjusted defense, and 6th in raw defensive efficiency. They're doing this with their characteristic ball-pressure defense, ranked 18th in turnover generation (about 1 out of every 4 possessions, or 17 a game) and 30th in live ball steal rate (11.6% of possessions, or about 8 a game). But unfortunately for the Hoos, it doesn't stop there. Even when teams are able to run their offense and get off a shot, Rhoades' Rams are somehow even stronger here, holding teams to only 42.7% shooting on 2's (22nd nationally) and an incredible 23.9% on 3's (3rd nationally). Santos-Silva, Jenkins, and Douglas combine to block 4 shots a game. Their only weak spots are defensive rebounding and fouling, neither of which the UVA offense is designed necessarily to exploit.

C) Their offense is really struggling to find an identity. So why is a team with one of the nation's stingiest defenses ranked outside the Top 100 by the computers? Because their offense is struggling mightily. KenPom gives them the 250th ranked adjusted offense, and ranks them 292nd in raw offensive efficiency (scoring only 93.5 ppp... the median is 103.2, and for reference the Hoos are scoring 120.6). And it's hard to pinpoint just one area to blame... they shoot under 30% as a team from 3 (296th) even though they jack them up on nearly half their shots (44% of their shots from deep, 54th nationally), they turn the ball over on almost 22% of their possessions (289th). They're respectable at grabbing O-Rebounds and getting to the FT line, but they don't rank in the Top 100 in any offensive statistical category.

 

Their Season To Date

VCU is 7-2 on the season. They're 2-2 against teams in KenPom's Top 100, including an OT loss at St Johns, a 6 point win over Temple, a 10 point loss at Old Dominion, and most recently a 1 point win at Texas this past Wednesday.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Ball security. Obviously ball security. Down in Key #3 I'm going to talk about UVA's ability to shut down the Rams' half-court offense (you're going to notice these Keys all flow into each other today) given their season-long struggles on that end. So if VCU has any real hope of winning this game with offense, it's going to need to be generated by their ability to turn the ball over in the open floor and go get transition opportunities. Jerome, Kihei, and Guy (and Dre and Key to a lesser extent) need to be on point with their dribbles, with picking up their dribbles, and with passing in a frenetic environment. Hoo turnovers will not only prevent us from having our own opportunities to score, but give the Rams cleaner looks than our half-court D would otherwise allow. Last year, Virginia only turned the ball over a paltry 5 times total in this matchup (Ty Jerome had a sparking 7:0 A:TO ratio) and while this VCU iteration is far superior to last year's, we'll still need to channel that same energy this weekend.

2) Be aggressive on offense. Look, this may not be a pretty game for our offense. VCU excels at nearly everything defensively. They pressure the ball, but even then they get back to defend both the paint and the 3 point line with equal fierceness. How are the Hoos going to find a way to score enough to win? By attacking. It needs to be smart aggression, obviously, lest turnovers from bad gambles doom us (see Key #1). But we're wasting opportunities if we're slowly and methodically passing the ball through pressure, burning shot clock, and then holding the ball on the perimeter hesitant to attack the pain, settling for contested jump shots just like they want us too. Figure out how to not just survive the press, but beat it, getting down the court quickly while they're scrambling to set up. Attack off of turnovers before they're able to set up. And if they somehow do get time to set up, crash the paint where VCU's bigs are foul prone and where they're prone to giving up offensive rebounds and second chance opportunities.

3) Take away their ball movement. VCU is bad moving the ball. Like, really bad. They turn the ball over with the worst of 'em (19 vs Temple, 22 vs St Johns, 14 vs ODU, and 15 at Texas). None of their guards are really the floor general type. Meanwhile, Virginia's defense is Top 20 nationally in both TO% and Steal%, and as much as leaning on this turnover statistic to stymie the VCU offense is important, it's also critical to creating transition opportunities against a terrific Rams D (see Key #2). Make ball movement an absolute chore for the Rams, and if Salt can keep Santos-Silva off the offensive glass, there's little about this offense that should consistently threaten the Hoos.

 

 

Predictions:

So on one end of the floor you've got UVA's pleasantly efficient offense against VCU's frightening defense. And on the other end of the floor you've got UVA's frightening defense against VCU's anemic offense. On paper, this one should be cut and dry. UVA's defense makes VCU's offense look even worse than it already is, while UVA's offense has its struggles but does enough to send the Rams home with a loss. Simple, right?

So now we have to talk about intangibles, and VCU's psychology as the disrespected little brother in this relationship. A few days ago then went into Austin and upset Shaka's Longhorns, which, while Texas is overrated and undisciplined and they had red flags aplenty going into that, still speaks to VCU's program mindset as one of college basketball's designated giant killers (however relevant that may still be; what's important is that they believe).

But ultimately, just because VCU's defense can pick on a bad-shooting Longhorns team that ranks 243rd in raw offensive efficiency, it's no guarantee they'll have quite the success against the Hoos. ODU and St John's both achieved about 1.0 ppp on offense, and so UVA should be able to as well, being able to absorb the Rams' best "big game" shot (their beating Texas should be all the proof Tony needs to convince our boys to come as focused as they'll need to be). And if the Rams struggle on offense like I expect them too, you'll start to see that exhaustion and frustration creep into their defensive performance in the second half.

Hoos Win 62-48