What to expect: Rams look to bounce back against Duquesne

There are no easy games in the Atlantic, but after a losing to George Washington on Tuesday, hosting Duquesne for homecoming is about as good as it gets.

  • What: VCU (13-4, 1-1) vs. Duquesne (8-7, 1-2)
  • Where: Stuart C. Siegel Center
  • When: Saturday, January 18th at 4:00 PM
  • Watch: CBS Sports Network
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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The Rundown

“We have a lot to work on, but we have a lot to work with.”Shaka Smart

Coach Smart said this court-side after the Black & Gold Tip-off back in October. It’s still extremely true. VCU’s talent is unquestionable and the potential of HAVOC! is known around the country, but the Rams are still a long way from being a team that can win the Atlantic 10. It seems like every season the Rams flip the switch at some point – this season it has taken a little longer than in the past and some are wondering if it will happen at all.

With this much talent and a coach like Shaka Smart, it feels like there’s always the potential for that “switch” to flip. If Tuesday’s 76-66 loss to George Washington is any indication, the switch needs to flip sooner rather than later if the Rams hope to compete for a conference title. Right now, the only thing scarier than Patricio Garino at the top of GW’s 1-3-1 zone is the depth of the Atlantic 10. There are zero easy games, but hosting Duquesne for homecoming in the Siegel Center is about as favorable as a rebound game can get.

The Team

Duquesne has made a huge leap forward on offense thanks to the addition of transfers Ovie Soko, Micah Mason, and Dominque McKoy, and the addition of junior college player Tra’Vaughn White. Last season was the Derrick Colter show. Now in year two of coach Jim Ferry’s tenure, the recruits have arrived, and Colter has been relied upon less for scoring. The results have been impressive. Duquesne has improved from 221st on offense last season to 90th this season.

Their uptempo offense is effective from 3-point range, it draws plenty of fouls, and the Dukes rank 18th in offensive turnover percentage. They regularly put three ball-handlers on the floor which should mitigate HAVOC!, and they have a few great 3-point shooters. Offensively, the Dukes have the tools and firepower to score against VCU’s 10th ranked defense.

Defensively, the Dukes have been horrendous. They rank 312th in defensive efficiency. They don’t force turnovers and teams are abusing their undersized perimeter–especially from 3-point range where opponents are connecting on .405 of their attempts. They play plenty of 3-2 zone, but it hasn’t helped them stop penetration, and it leaves open corner 3-pointers.

Teams have scored 45+ points in a half on Duquesne nine different times, and Saint Joseph’s went 17-of-27 from 3-point range on Wednesday against the Dukes. Saturday will be a good opportunity for the Rams to practice being deliberate on offense. The Rams’ transition opportunities may be limited, but they should have little trouble scoring in the half court.

The Star: #0 Ovie Soko

17.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 0.9 SPG

Soko transferred in from UAB and he is putting together a great senior campaign. He was a non-factor against VCU in 2011, and he scored 10 points against the Rams in 2012 but turned over the ball six times before fouling out. He has a knack for getting to the free-throw line, and he has scored in double figures in 15 of 16 games this season. Soko can score, but he will be outsized by VCU’s front-court the entire game.

Supporting Cast

#1 Derrick Colter (PG, Sophomore) • As a freshman, Colter led the team in scoring and assists. The additions of Soko and Mason have lightened his load, and he has become much more efficient. Despite having five turnovers, Colter was very successful against VCU last season.

#22 Micah Mason (SG, Sophomore) • Mason transferred in from Drake University and missed five games with a broken right hand. He may be the best shooter in the conference. He’s 25-of-40 from 3-point range in ten games this season, since going 1-of-4 in the opener he’s shot .500 or better in every game, and he ranks #1 in offensive efficiency on KenPom.com. Mason isn’t extremely aggressive, but when he gets open looks, he usually scores.

#23 Jeremiah Jones (G, Junior) • Duquesne lacks size on the perimeter and Jones has the potential to get exploited on defense by a larger guy like Jordan Burgess. Moving forward, the Rams need Burgess to be a bigger scorer, and Saturday could be a good first step.

#3 Dominique McKoy (F, Junior) • McKoy ranks 12th nationally in effective field goal percentage, but his real contribution is defense. While Duquesne’s perimeter has been abused, he has done a solid job avoiding foul trouble on the back side of the zone defense. Still, Reddic needs to get going in a game where he is the best player on the court.

#2 Tra’Vaughn White (G, Junior) • When White enters the game, Duquesne usually plays two players shorter than six feet. He’s a good scorer, and he rarely turns over the ball, but he is a defensive liability. Melvin Johnson and Rob Brandenberg can shoot over him and Treveon Graham and Jordan Burgess should be able to muscle by him.

The Prediction

While Duquesne is solid on offense and they play a less common defense, the Rams should have no trouble winning. Success on Saturday has more to do with how the half-court offense looks and how the Rams recover when the press doesn’t result in turnovers. KenPom picks VCU to win 89-69 with a 94% chance of victory.

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Duquesne Profile

  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA
  • Enrollment: 10,363
  • Conference: A-10
  • All time series: VCU leads 1-0
  • Last meeting: 1/19/13. VCU won 90-63.

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Aaron Williams

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

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