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Recon: VCU

UD finally faces an A10 team with a pulse

Recon: VCU

It’s been awhile, folks. Since we last talked to you on this here site, UD had a ho-hum win against George Washington and subsequently had the second game against the Colonials canceled due to the Asian Invasion. The GW erasure is likely a good thing, the game would only have been yet another landmine on UD’s path to recapturing respectability. Winning that second tilt against George Washington wouldn’t have resulted in UD gaining ground in any sense of the word. It simply is a game, not unlike Fordham and La Salle, that the Flyers couldn’t afford to lose. The second GW game would have registered on the very top left corner of the Risk-Reward Matrix.

A concerning, perhaps not surprising, result of UD’s three-game winning streak is the false bravado and confidence it has instilled in the fanbase. I have, I shit you not, seen speculation regarding Dayton’s at-large hopes. I can’t put this simply enough: Dayton’s only shot at the NCAA Tournament will come as a result of winning the A10 Tournament (if it in fact occurs). I’m certainly not one to go off half-cocked, although many women would disagree (ok, not many), so I’ve performed the requisite research so you won’t have to. After checking out all the “respected” analytical sites (Bartovik, et. al.) it would appear that UD’s only realistic shot at an-large would be under the the following scenario: win EVERY remaining conference game and get to the league’s tourney final. That particular result would put Dayton’s odds somewhere around 35-40%.

Sleepy Watson drains a three while a young fan yawns in excitement

Here’s the thing, Dayton is absolutely going to lose again in A10 play, it’s a sheer certainty. Dayton’s recent good fortune stems directly from squaring up against subpar competition. UD’s next five games are as follows — at VCU, at Saint Louis, Rhode Island, at Duquesne and closing out at home against Richmond (Furthermore, in an attempt to increasingly dampen your spirits, the Flyers toughest four-game stretch will come at the very end of the season). So, don’t worry about the rest of conference play, Grant’s team will lose some, win some and it will be the second week of March before you know it. It’s three (possibly four, hopefully not five) games in March, that’s the season.

With all that being said, a visit to the Richmond Cafenasium is always a treat. While it won’t be the same without a crowd, it’s certainly a chance to see how far this Flyer squad has come since the Fordham defeat.

If you had the opportunity to watch the VCU/St. Bona game this weekend, you were witness to one of the more awe-inducing defeats in recent memory. After an inspiring first-half which saw VCU head into the break with a convincing fifteen point lead, the Richmond Rams went into an offensive freefall over the last twenty minutes. After shooting just 19% from the field in the second frame, VCU ended up losing the game, 70-54. From a fifteen point lead to a sixteen point loss, that’s tough to do.

Vince Williams remembers the first law of basketball — always keep the ball at eye level

The Rams are what we thought they were. They will have no problem taking down the bottom tier of the league, but will clearly struggle against the upper crust of the A10. To be fair, Dayton doesn’t exactly have a stranglehold on the bottom barrel conference teams, so the Flyers outlook isn’t that much better — if at all. (Speaking of the top floor of the league, it would appear that Saint Bonaventure and UMass, yes UMass, currently have membership in the unexclusive club. Certainly things can change quickly, but the early play of the Bonnies and Minutemen has to be encouraging for those two horrible, hideous, fanbases.)

As Matt will surely tell you in the next paragraph, the Rams are still the same, ain’t a damn thing changed. VCU will block shots, turn you over and guard the three-point line with urgency. It’s no secret, defense is where Mike Rhoades’ club makes its hay. Offensively, VCU is, as always, a work in progress. They relied heavily on points off turnovers and getting buckets in transition. Duquesne could learn a lesson from the Rams — since VCU doesn’t shoot the ball well from the perimeter, they simply don’t attempt a significant amount of shots from behind the arc. Simple, right? Bones Hyland is the name to remember. While VCU doesn’t necessarily need Hyland to go off for 25 to win games, if he isn’t at least a factor offensively the Rams will find nothing but tough sledding against the Flyers.

Mike Rhoades, after finding a gila monster in the bathroom

The names may change, but how VCU plays, and indeed the stats remain the same. Forcing turnovers and protecting the paint are characteristics you would expect from the home team when the Flyers visit Market Day Arena and this version of the Richmond Rams are no different. Mike Rhodes has a young squad, with his Ram Lambs ranking 302nd among division 1 tams in experience. Despite VCU’s inexperience, they are the same pain the ass defenders we’ve grown to know and loathe in the 9 years the Flyers and the Rams have locked horns.

High block rate? Check. High steal rate? Check. Even after allowing 45 points in the second half against St. Bonaventure Wednesday, VCU’s 15.8% block rate and 15% steal rate on defense rank 5th and 2nd in the country respectively. On @A10Stats, I posted a graph this week showing where every Atlantic 10 player who is averaging 15 minutes of playing time a game fall in both block and steal percentage. Three VCU players, Hason Ward, Corey Douglas and KeShawn Curry, were above both a 2% steal and block rate (the averages for each in the conference), which was the most of any team in the A10. So far this season, VCU’s opponents are only scoring 1.02 points per possession at the rim, well lower than what the average A10 team does scoring there. It seems yet again that any VCU player is capable of both ripping the ball from your hands and sending your shot into row Z.

While the continued defensive aggressiveness of VCU can seem daunting, there are a few things that the Flyers can try to exploit in the Rams defense. As with most teams that play aggressive defense at the rim and force turnovers, the Richmond Rams commit a lot of fouls. VCU has a 39% free throw rate on defense, meaning opponents have had plenty of opportunities to score the freebies at the line. Given that the Flyers are an above average team getting to the line and a top 50 free throw shooting team nationally, Dayton will need to continue to convert their free throws Saturday to counteract VCU’s aggressiveness on defense.

While it is tough sledding scoring against the Rams at the rim, there have been plenty of field goal attempts from the perimeter for VCU’s opponents. While thy have only seen 31% of these attempts made, we have discussed frequently on here that 3-point % on defense often comes down to luck. Preventing those attempts is more in the defense’s purview and VCU has allowed plenty of perimeter shots. The Flyers has been a very consistent three-point shooting team, so if they can hit a few early threes it might help relieving the defensive pressure applied by the Rams.

On the other side of the ball, VCU will run, run, run, run, run.  They are ranked 55th in KenPom’s tempo stat, 30th in average possession length, and play in transition 21.6% of the time which ranks 36th in the country. Despite their proclivity to try and push the pace, they aren’t necessarily super-efficient in transition. In those transition possessions, they are only averaging 0.96 points per possession. Given that the average possession is typically about 1 point per possession, it’s not as if the Rams are cashing in on transition. So why the heavy reliance from VCU on transition?

Mostly because things can get bogged down in the half court offense for the Rams. VCU can shoot the ball efficiently much of the time. They have an effective field goal percentage of 52.4%, average 1.20 points per possession at attempts at the rim and have shot 34.6% from three-point range. All three of these metrics are above average, but Flyer fans might be able to relate to our black and yellow Richmond hayseed brethren in where the VCU comes up short on offense. While slightly lower than Dayton’s turnover rate, the 21.3% turnover rate the Rams have put up certainly signify VCU has issues holding onto the basketball. Saturday may come down to which team is able to limit the turnovers and not gift the opposition extra possessions.

This matchup is never difficult to foretell. The one interesting element this season will be the pace of play for the respective squadrons. While Dayton plays at a snail’s pace, VCU likes to push the ball, force the soul out of you defensively and create what the natives call HAVOC (you might have heard of it). The obvious issue will be the condition of Jalen Crutcher and Sleepy Watson when the final four minutes of the game are at hand. I’d assume Grant will counter by trying to play Crutch off the ball as much as possible, which as we have seen isn’t the most offensively efficient brand of UD basketball this season. Can VCU wear Crutcher’s ass out? Make him quit? We shall see. Rams 68, Flyer 64. #LOWD

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