What to expect: VCU hosts EKU in the battle of the thieves

Thursday night, VCU will host Eastern Kentucky University. VCU enters the game ranked first in the nation with 13.0 steals per game while EKU enters the game ranked second nationally with 11.9 steals per game.

VCU-EKU
  • What: VCU (6-2, 0-0) vs. Eastern Kentucky (6-2, 0-0)
  • Where: Stuart C. Siegel Center
  • When: Thursday, December 5th at 7:00 PM
  • Watch: Comcast SportsNet/CBS 6.3
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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Thursday night, Virginia Commonwealth University will host Eastern Kentucky University. VCU enters the game ranked first in the nation with 13.0 steals per game while EKU enters the game ranked second nationally with 11.9 steals per game.

The Rundown

Beating Eastern Kentucky won’t bump VCU up a line in tournament seeding come Selection Sunday, and it won’t be a victory that will push them back into the top 25, but Thursday’s battle with the steal-crazy Colonels is an important learning opportunity for the Rams.

The Rams have built a name for themselves in forcing turnovers, but a fact that is often overlooked is that turnover differential is more important than raw turnovers. EKU enters Thursday as not only one of the best teams at stealing the basketball but also a great team at protecting the basketball.

At times, VCU and EKU leave something to be desired in the shooting department, but both teams find success by simply attempting more shots than their opponents. EKU is trending upward in this feat while the Rams have been less successful (marginally) in the post-Darius Theus era.

VCU

Year SPG Off. TO% Def. TO% +/-
2014 13.0 18.3 27.5 +9.2%
2013 11.7 16.9 28.5 +11.6%
2012 10.6 17.5 27.3 +9.8%

A 2.4% difference between last season and this season may seem minor, but it translates into 1.77 possessions per game. Because they are turnovers, that means 1.77 more possessions per game that VCU’s opponents can’t score, and 1.77 more possessions per game that VCU can attempt to score, often times easily in transition.

The Colonels ranked 33rd in defensive turnover percentage and 40th in offensive turnover percentage. On Saturday against NC State, EKU didn’t turn the ball over for the first 13:20(!). The Rams and The Stu will need to work extra hard to rattle the Colonels.

Turnovers doesn’t necessarily mean lacing up the track spikes and running & gunning like VCU. EKU is a team led by four seniors and two juniors who like to play disciplined in the half-court. Thursday presents plenty of opportunities for the upward focused Rams:

  1. Can VCU turn over an experienced, disciplined team?
  2. Can VCU protect the rock from a pesky ball-hawking opponent?
  3. Can VCU’s new(ish)-look front court abuse the undersized Colonels?

The Team

Eastern Kentucky was picked to finished ahead of Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference this season. Predictions are different now because of Belmont’s success replacing Keron Johnson and Ian Clark, but EKU is still a dangerous team. Their four guard lineup is a dangerous combination of 3-point shooters and intense on-ball defenders that is capable of giving the Rams trouble.

Head Coach Jeff Neubauer is a former John Beilein assistant. For decades, Beilein was the master of getting every last drop out of less-athletic teams using the “two guard” offense and the 1-3-1 zone (Beilein is still a master, but his teams are now loaded with athletes). “Two guard” is a bit of a misnomer, but a huge part of it is four guards that can shoot 3-pointers.

Their offense starts and often ends with great shooter/distributor Glenn Cosey. EKU ranks eighth nationally in 3-point attempts per FGA but only 189th in 3-point percentage. They average nine 3-pointers a game, and they made 20 against Warren Wilson. Their number of attempts is representative of their ability to get open looks from range. EKU doesn’t force 3-pointers, and if they are having a hot shooting night, then they can be David to an unprepared Goliath.

Like Florida State and Georgetown, EKU regularly switches defenses. They use less 1-3-1 this season because they are more athletic than in the past, but they still use it in addition to an aggressive 2-3 zone and a very aggressive man-to-man defense. EKU’s steals come from aggressive ball-pressure, but they are good at not being beaten on the drive because of disciplined help-side defense. The bottom line: it won’t always look like HAVOC!, but the Colonels ranked #2 in steals for a reason.

The Star: #0 Glenn Cosey

19.0 PPG, .421 3PFG%, 5.2 APG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9SPG, 1.9 TOPG

Senior point guard Glenn Cosey joins Ian Clark and Isaiah Canaan as recent players from the OVC who can single handedly will their teams to wins. Cosey is a stud and he presents his own Chad Williamsesque type of challenge for VCU.

He is an elite scorer who also finds his teammates plenty of open looks. EKU’s offense is almost entirely him scoring or him driving and kicking to other scorers. VCU needs to be disciplined about finding a balance between running him off the 3-point line and keeping him out of the lane.

Supporting Cast

#2 Corey Walden (G, Junior) • Walden is exactly the type of player EKU wants, he’s a solid on-ball defender, he consistently makes hustle plays, and he’s a solid 3-point shooter. His match-ups with VCU’s perimeter should be highly entertaining.

#12 Marcus Lewis (G, Senior) • Lewis’s 3-point shot hasn’t been falling, but his eFG% ranks 105th nationally because he has been extremely efficient inside the arc (36 of 50, .720). He’s probably EKU’s best perimeter defender and he adds length to an undersized backcourt.

#34 Tarius Johnson (G, Senior) • Forth guards in four-guard lineups are special players. Matching up with Treveon Graham and probably Juvonte Reddic will be tough for Johnson. Both have the strength to handle Johnson and the speed to defend him on the perimeter. Graham could be primed for another big scoring night.

#42 Eric Stutz (F, Junior) • Stutz is the Colonels’ only regular contributor with size. At 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, he spends plenty of time playing undersized. His rebounding numbers could be better, but he’s tearing opponents apart with 18-of-25 shooting (.720) inside the arc.

#15 Orlando Williams (G, Junior) • Williams is the classic do-a-little-bit-of-everything sixth man. First do no harm: he’s incredibly responsible with the basketball. He rebounds well for a guard, he’s a good shooter, and he can defend multiple positions.

The Prediction

While EKU isn’t a great team, this will be a great challenge for the Rams. I love scheduling this game at this part in the season. If the Rams are prepared and if they play like they did against Belmont, then they should win by double digits. KenPom.com picks VCU to win 83-67 with a 92% chance of victory.

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Eastern Kentucky Profile

  • Location:Richmond, Kentucky
  • Enrollment: 15,968
  • Conference: OVC
  • All time series: EKU leads 3-1
  • Last meeting: 12/21/72. VCU won 69-63.

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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