What to expect: Rams need one more solid road win

It’s VCU’s final road game before A-10 play and it should be more important than it seems now.

  • What: VCU (8-2, 0-0) vs. Northern Iowa (4-5, 0-0)
  • Where: McLeod Arena
  • When: Saturday, December 14th at 12:00 PM
  • Watch: ESPNU (Comcast 730, 853HD; Verizon 73, 573HD)
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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Virginia Commonwealth University travels to Northern Iowa on Saturday for their final road test before conference play begins.

The Rundown

Don’t be distracted by Northern Iowa’s 4-5 record. The Panthers are a good team that is even better at home. A win in Cedar Falls won’t look that impressive now, but it will be another important road victory on the Rams’ resume come March. VCU is 8-0 inside the continental United States with impressive road wins over Virginia and Belmont. A win on Saturday would leave no doubts about the Rams’ ability to travel.

Iowa State is 4-5, but their losses have come at the hands of good teams like Maryland, Iowa State, and Ohio. Just last week they took #17 Iowa State to overtime. Two games before that, they handled La Salle 65-50. Saturday is a difficult game where the Rams have infinitely more to lose than the Panthers.

More importantly, Saturday is an opportunity to get better. JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox are starting to turn into big contributors, but the Rams are waiting on Jordan Burgess and Jarred Guest to jumpstart their seasons. Burgess has really struggled shooting (5-22 2-point shooting, 3-13 3-point shooting) and Jarred Guest has struggled with early fouls. Both made progress this week, but both are waiting on the type of game that they can use to build momentum. Saturday is a big opportunity before facing Virginia Tech in the Richmond Coliseum.

The Team

VCU beat Northern Iowa in a shootout in the 2012 ESPN Bracketbusters. The two teams combined for 17 3-pointers. After a 44 point blitz in the first half, the Rams limited the Panthers to 24 points in the second half en route to a 77-68 win.

A lot has changed for Northern Iowa since that game. The Panthers used to spread the floor with their balanced 3-point shooting. They ranked 27th in 3-point shooting percentage in 2012. Now they rank 293rd. Despite the lackluster numbers, the Panthers still score a huge portion of their points from 3-point range. That’s a scary prospect. Northern Iowa will give the Rams their best shot at home and a hot shooting night could be trouble.

Northern Iowa is well prepared for VCU’s transition game. They don’t crash the glass. They get back quickly and play “wait for the other team to make a mistake” man-to-man defense. Fortunately for VCU, teams have been lighting up the Panthers, especially from range. VCU needs a “punch the other team in the face” early in the game type win. A couple of steals and a few 3-pointers early would make for a nice Saturday morning.

The Star: #10 Seth Tuttle

13.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 BPG

He isn’t Cleanthony Early, but Tuttle is a premier big man in the Missouri Valley Conference. He scores plenty of points inside the paint, he’s a great defensive rebounder, and an effective shot blocker. Juvonte Reddic scored at will on Sunday because of his size advantage. Can Reddic maintain his output against a larger more experienced defender like Tuttle?

Supporting Cast

#1 Deon Mitchell (PG, Junior) • In 2012, Mitchell scored 18 points on 7-11 shooting, grabbed 5 rebounds, and dished out six assists all while handling HAVOC! pretty well. Mitchell is even better than he used to be, but he doesn’t have a bevy of great shooters surrounding him like in 2012.

#11 Wes Washpun (G, Sophomore) • Glue guy. Washpun’s shooting has been abysmal this season, but he does everything else well enough to justify leading the Panthers in minutes. How many 6-foot-1 guards average 4.3 RPG and 1.1 BPG? The Tennessee transfer’s shot didn’t fall for the Volunteers either, but he can still score in transition off of steals.

#5 Matt Bohannon (G, Sophomore) • He doesn’t turn it over, he hits his shots, and he gets to the free-throw line, but you’ll probably forget he’s in the game. Bohannon is a great 3-point shooter waiting for a breakout game. The Rams have a knack for inspiring those kinds of performances.

#4 Chip Rank (G/F, Senior) • He’s a dynamic stretch-4 who is the Panther’s best shooter. This will be a fun matchup for Reddic when VCU goes big and for Treveon Graham when VCU goes small. On a team that can’t score, Rank is a guy who can get hit shots and score from inside and outside.

#14 Nate Buss (F, Junior) • Buss only plays 20 minutes per game, but his numbers are extremely efficient. He’s a 6-foot-9 monster rebounder who’s 28-39 (.718) from 2-point range and 11-23 (.478) from 3-point range. Tuttle is a better player overall, but Buss can impact the game in short bursts with his inside-out punch.

The Prediction

VCU will go down by 8 points in the first 10 minutes. With 12ish minutes remaining in the game, the Rams will turn it on and win by 15 points. KenPom picks VCU to win 74-69 with a 67% chance of victory.

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Northern Iowa Profile

  • Location: Cedar Falls, Iowa
  • Enrollment: 14,000
  • Conference: MVC
  • All time series: VCU leads 1-0.
  • Last meeting: 2/17/12. VCU won 77-68.

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Aaron Williams

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

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