Virginia Commonwealth University hosts CJ McCollum and the Lehigh Mountain Hawks Saturday night.
- What: VCU (11-3, 0-0) vs. Lehigh (9-3, 0-0)
- Where: Stuart C. Siegel Center
- When: Saturday, January 5th at 5:00 PM
- Watch: NBC Sports Network (Comcast 226, 848 HD; Verizon 90, 590HD)
- Listen: Rams Radio
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Well that’s a tough act to follow…Days removed from shellacking ETSU, 109-58, behind an Atlantic-10 record ELEVEN 3-pointers from Troy Daniels, Virginia Commonwealth University hosts the Lehigh Mountain Hawks Saturday night. The final game in a successful non-conference campaign from the Rams, a victory over Lehigh’s stellar offense would be another great addition to the Ram’s already strong at-large resume for the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Lehigh caught headlines last March in the NCAA tournament after becoming just the sixth 15th seed to upset a 2nd seed when they topped Duke 75-70. They enter this contest 9-3 with no quality wins, understandable losses to Baylor and Pitt, but they’re one week removed from a very bad and inexplicable loss to Bryant.
Lehigh leads the nation in 3-point shooting at an incredible 44.8%. Four players, #3 CJ McCollum, #42 Gabe Knutson, #20 Holden Greiner, and #21 Stefan Cvrkalj could finish top-10 at VCU for single season 3-point field goal percentage if the season ended today.
CJ McCollum is the nation’s most prolific scorer, but unlike last season he has a stronger and more experienced supporting cast. Junior point guard, #11 Mackey McKnight , has the tools to to navigate VCU’s full court pressure and he is also a capable scorer.
Senior forward, #42 Gabe Knutson (Ka-noot-son), is an extremely talented and dynamic big man. He can score around the rim but he is also shooting .529 from 3-point range. At 6-foot-9, his inside-out game is a matchup nightmare reminiscent of Jamie Skeen.
Senior forward, #20 Holden Grenier, is Lehigh’s fourth scorer averaging double digits. Another inside-out talent, he is the Mountain Hawks only big time rebounder at an underwhelming 6.3 boards per contest.
At times this season, VCU has struggled with fouls. Shooting an incredible 80.5% from the charity stripe, which also ranks first nationally, Lehigh will make VCU pay for every single foul.
Lehigh’s offense is a tall order for VCU, but the Mountain Hawk’s defense has plenty of room for improvement. They struggle with rebounding, an area where VCU has dramatically improved during coach Smart’s tenure. While their 3-point defense is strong, they allow opponents to shoot 48.7% from 2-point range.
The bottom line is, Lehigh is extremely efficient on offense, but their front court lacks the defensive skill to take the Mountain Hawks from a good mid major team to an elite mid major team.
Some great players have visited the Stuart C. Siegel Center since it opened in 1999. NBA players Kent Bazemore and Charles Jenkins come to mind, but CJ McCollum is in a league of his own. The senior shooting guard leads the nation in scoring at 25.7PPG, is a John Wooden award candidate, is projected as a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA draft, and he willed Lehigh’s past Duke in the 2012 NCAA tournament with 30 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists.
McCollum can score from all over the court. He is shooting .532 from 3-point range, .841 from the charity stripe, he can get to the rim, and he can handle the basketball. While Lehigh will always play him alongside a point guard, he frequently handles the ball, and he is extremely capable of creating his own shot.
VCU’s defense is elite, but McCollum will still score points no matter what the Rams do. Guards Briante Weber, Darius Theus, and Rob Brandenberg could all get opportunities to guard him, but the Ram’s best option is to force turnovers and keep the ball out of McCollum’s hands.
Playing elite 3-point shooting teams, particularly one with a future NBA player is scary. Anything can happen when a team starts scoring in bunches from range, but Lehigh isn’t designed like the type of teams that upset VCU at home. The Mountain Hawks aren’t a Wichita State, an elite rebounding team that can will their way to victory on the offensive glass and with gritty defense. This is a quality team, but VCU should win their 9th straight game on Saturday. KenPom picks VCU to win 86-69 with a 91% chance of victory.
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- Location: Bethlehem, PA
- Enrollment: 6,067
- Conference: Patriot League
- All time series: 0-0
- Last meeting: N/A
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