Virginia Commonwealth visits the Arena for the last regular season game of the year, let’s go.

[su_quote cite=”Archie Miller”]The whole world knows the circumstances,” Miller said. “The first thing is we have to play extremely loyal to Dyshawn and Bobby. Senior Night is always a special opportunity. You never want to be that guy to not win your last home game. For us, it’s also an opportunity to reset the battery so to speak at UD Arena with our crowd and play with some passion. Obviously, our opponent is going to bring the best out of us.[/su_quote]

Is that a call to get LOWD? You’re fucking right it is.

Overview

Being astute A10 loyalists, you already know that Virginia Commonwealth has wrapped up at least a share of the conference regular season title. The Rams ran roughshod through the league and racked up a 14-3 record, clinching a first-place finish with a victory over George Washington on Wednesday night. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Rams will end up with the number one seed in the conference tournament next week, a UD win and a St. Joe’s loss (to Duquesne) would actually see Dayton finish atop the table by virtue of a tiebreaker. Regardless, VCU would seem to be in the driver’s seat for the top seed, and can do no worse than the two seed.

VCU has suckled on the marrow of lessers this season, accumulating 22 wins with very little to show for it. The Rams challenged themselves during the non-conference portion of their schedule – facing off against the likes of Duke, Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Cincinnati – but failed to register a single victory against a team of substance. On paper, Will Wade’s biggest non-league win came against Old Dominion, a middling team in Conference USA.

This isn’t to say VCU hasn’t earned a tournament bid, as any UD fan knows sometimes winning the A10’s gimmies can be as important as taking down the conference’s upper-echelon squads (to be fair, the Rams did slip up against both UMass and George Mason). Is Virginia Commonwealth’s season built on the back of a fortunate A10 slate? Consider that VCU only played St. Joe’s, Dayton and Saint Bonaventure, the three other teams with byes in the A10 tournament, once and I think you have your answer. The truth of the matter is, the Rams need a victory over UD this weekend to solidify their somewhat precarious postseason hopes. VCU’s win against St. Joe’s during the first week of January is their only win over a Top 50 RPI team.
usa-today-8930690.0Will Wade bought into the HAVOC™ brand immediately, taking Shaka Smart’s philosophy (Wade was an assistant under Smart) and tweaking it just a bit. This year’s Rams team has the same characteristics that made the program so successful under Smart. VCU keeps care of the ball offensively, turning it over on just 16.7% of their possessions, and crashes the offensive boards with fearless ferocity (Fearless Ferocity was either an 80’s hair-metal band or the name of the only speedboat ever driven by a gay man, only Google can answer that for you).  

Defensively, of course, is where the sausage gets made for Wade’s club. VCU is once again top ten in the nation in defensive turnover percentage, currently forcing miscues on 22.9% of their opponent’s possessions. Only Rhode Island guards the three-point line as effectively as Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic Ten, a fact that should probably give you pause. And remember, VCU manages to play their defensive style, which has been described as murderous, while garnering an unexpectedly low amount of whistles. Prepare to be frustrated.

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Senior wing Melvin Johnson is the Rams’ key man on offense. Johnson puts up almost a third of VCU’s shots (30.6% to be exact), second in the conference to Davidson’s Jack Gibbs who takes 33.6% of the Wildcats’ field-goal attempts. Like Gibbs, Johnson’s prolific shooting is justified. He is shooting 42% from behind the arc, 82% from the stripe and, like an anal suppository, can get hot quickly. Johnson isn’t a volume shooter either; he’s an efficient scorer with almost unlimited range. He is a marauding player who will find a way to get his points no matter what UD throws at him.  

JeQuan Lewis is the Rams’ starting point-guard and serves as the team’s barometer for success. When Lewis is playing well, VCU is a difficult team to beat. Although recognized as a “pass-first” point, Lewis has developed into one of the Rams’ more prominent scoring options. He has greatly improved his shooting ability from the perimeter and is close to automatic from the foul-line. He is VCU’s best on-ball defender but is foul prone due to his aggressive “techniques.” Lewis-Scoochie will be a good matchup to watch and may prove to be the key to tomorrow’s game.  

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Mo Alie-Cox is still VCU’s man in the middle. The undersized center is a banger down low and gets to the line at a fucking terrifying frequency; he currently leads the A10 in free-throw rate, where he converts 76% of his attempts. Big Steve may foul out before he checks into the game. Alie-Cox is also an above-average rebounder and one of the league’s better shot-blockers. 

Johnny Williams and Korey Billbury will likely round out the Rams starting lineup tomorrow night. Billbury is a graduate transfer from Oral Roberts who was suspended for the last six games of the Golden Eagles season last year – which is a pretty gangster way of leaving one school for another. Billbury is a solid shooter from three and a damn fine defender. Williams is a decent all-around guard who has seen increased minutes as the season draws to a close.  

The VCU bench is led by Doug Brooks, Jordan Burgess and Justin Tillman. Brooks is a liability offensively but will steal everything that isn’t bolted down (and pick up plenty of fouls in the process). If you Google “Jordan Burgess” this picture pops up: 

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Justin Tillman is an undernourished forward that does all the dirty stuff, like popping his dong into a hot-dog bun for laughs, that makes teams successful.

Nate’s Numbers

DowlogoOur LOWD men of RED get the Rams at home for what is likely for all the four-way tie marbles. Shaka Smart has departed, but the main tenant of this program has not. This VCU team doesn’t quite have the high-level HAVOC it once did, however it is still the Rams’ driving force.  

If you look at this team’s major offensive and defensive categories, they’re only Top 50 in two: defensive turnover percentage and steal percentage, where they are top 10 in both. This isn’t quite the 2013 version of HAVOC that set a record for turnover percentage and steal percentage at 28.5% and 17% respectively, but it’s still pretty damn effective. 

VCU turns folks over at a rate 23.9% (7th) and gets steals on 13.3% of possessions (3rd). This completely fuels their defense. When you look at the Four Factors and a team’s correlation to defensive efficiency performance, the most common correlation is field-goal percentage. This is not true for VCU. VCU’s turnover percentage connection to their defensive efficiency is 0.70, while field-goal percentage is only 0.59 (Note: a perfect correlation is 1.0).  For VCU’s defense to be effective they must turn you over. Sadly for us, Dayton does not secure the ball particularly well.

On offense I tend to look at where Dayton’s defense is weak, defending three- point shooting. At first glance VCU is decent, but nothing to be overly scared of, shooting 37.1% (58th) from behind the arc. However, if you dig further they have some high-quality shooters. Melvin Johnson is shooting 41.7% from three on almost 250 attempts. Jequan Lewis and Korey Billbury both shoot at above 41% on about 80 attempts each. Doug Brooks has been the one offset. He’s fired up 100 attempts, but only connected on 29 of them. While the team shooting percentages may not be all that worrisome, some of the individual shooters certainly are a concern.

On paper this is a bad match up. VCU turns you over and fires threes, Dayton’s offensive and defensive weaknesses. Let’s hope the Flyers turned the corner in Richmond, because if they allow their weaknesses to emerge the way they did against a squad that can exploit them so well there will be no banners to hang.

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Prediction

VCU’s tempo should play to Dayton’s strengths. As long as UD doesn’t have a nightmare turning the ball over, there shoudl be plenty of good looks and good vibes. The Flyers are 10-0 when scoring over eighty points in a game, make it 11-0 — Dayton wins 85-79, Dyshawn Pierre goes out a winner and the Sweater Centre shuts down LOWD in resounding fashion.