What to expect: Rams visit the Rams

Steals are down. Defensive turnovers are down. Wins are up. Two of the three should change against Rhode Island on Thursday.

  • What: VCU (18-4, 6-1) vs. Rhode Island (11-11, 6-10)
  • Where: Stuart C. Siegel Center
  • When: Thursday, February 6th at 7:00 PM
  • Watch: CBS Sports Network (Verizon 94 & Comcast 732/854)
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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Now in sole possession of second place in the Atlantic 10, Virginia Commonwealth University will try to win its sixth straight game on Thursday when the Rams host the Rams of the University of Rhode Island.

The Rundown

Despite underperforming expectations early in the season, Coach Shaka Smart is off to a career-best 18-4 start. More importantly, the Rams are an impressive 6-1 in the brutal A-10, but they’ve reached that mark despite a regression in their trademarks: steals and turnovers.

Turnover Percentage Steal Percentage
Season 26.8% 16.3%
A-10 23.1% 12.5%

In the Rams’ first 18 games, they failed to record double-digit steals three times. Now it’s happened three times in the last four games. Not to fear, the pressure defense has been effective at disrupting opponents’ offenses and wearing teams out–more importantly VCU has been winning games.

The Rams have been more effective at defending in the half court, and they have been crisper on the offensive end. Early in the season, fewer turnovers would have likely equaled more losses, but the VCU Rams are a much better team now.

Thursday, it shouldn’t matter. URI ranks 279th in offensive turnover percentage, and they are dealing with point guard issues. Expect HAVOC! to strike early and often in what could be VCU’s easiest remaining game this season.

The Team

Rhode Island was projected to make a serious leap this season because of the addition of three transfers, two high profile recruits, and the retention of a few key players. Things didn’t pan out.

Returning big man Jordan Hare, one of the most exciting young players in the Atlantic 10 left the team prior to the season leaving a huge hole in middle of the Rams’ front-court. Making matters worse, underperforming point guard Mike Powell left the team after playing eight games, dealing a huge blow to the Rams’ backcourt depth. Combine that with the graduation of four seniors and Mike Aaman’s emergency appendectomy and off-court assault, and suddenly only two players who logged minutes against VCU last season will visit the Stu on Thursday.

Mike Powell* 36 6 1-3 0-3 4-4 0 2 0 6 4 2 0
Xavier Munford* 35 17 4-9 2-6 3-4 0 1 4 1 5 3 0
Andre Malone* 35 11 2-7 2-5 1-3 0 1 3 3 0 2 0
Jordan Hare* 29 10 5-5 0-0 0-0 3 5 3 1 3 0 3
Nikola Malesevic* 25 4 2-4 0-1 0-0 2 5 4 1 1 1 0
TJ Buchanan 22 11 2-5 2-3 1-2 4 5 2 1 3 1 0
Ryan Brooks 8 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 0 1 0 1
Alwayne Bigby 7 5 2-2 0-0 1-1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0
Mike Aaman 3 0 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Team 200 64 18-36 6-18 10-14 11 21 18 13 17 9 4

As if that wasn’t bad enough, starting point guard Biggie Minnis is out indefinitely with a hip pointer injury. For anyone keeping score at home, that’s right, the Rams are down two point guards since the start of the season. That’s not a good problem to have on the eve of playing HAVOC!.

Xavier Munford may be the only recognizable name from last year’s squad, and URI had some serious roster struggles this season, but the Rams are not without talent. Rutgers transfer Gilvydas Biruta is a skilled big man who has filled the hole left by Jordan Hare, Rice transfer Jarelle Reischel is a serviceable glue-guy, and E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin are two of the most exciting freshmen in the conference.

The Rams have really struggled on the offensive end this season because of a dearth of 3-point shooting and the aforementioned turnover problem. They are strong on the offensive glass and they draw a ton of fouls which are two of VCU’s weaknesses, so they have the potential to turn it into one of those kinds of nights.

URI is much better on the defensive end. They have one of the best 3-point defenses in the nation, and they block plenty of shots. The Rams likely won’t be able to rely on 3-pointers to win the game. Juvonte Reddic finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks against URI last season. His performance will be paramount to taking care of business on Thursday.

The Star: #5 Xavier Munford

16.8 PPG (80-172 2PFG, 40-128 3PFG), 4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1 SPG

Munford ranks second in the conference in scoring at 18.9 PPG. He’s a volume shooter who can score from beyond the 3-point line, with midrange jumpers, and by getting to the rim. If he’s having an off night, then the Rams are in trouble. Watch whoever defends him, it should be a trip.

Supporting Cast

#13 TJ Buchanan (PG, Junior) • Buchanan has taken on more ball handling and offense initiating responsiblities in the absence of Minnis. He’s the Rams’ most efficient offensive player, and he scored 11 points against VCU last season.

#0 EC Matthews (SF, Freshman) • The Rams’ second best scorer, Matthews has scored 20 points in back-to-back games, and he is a player on the rise in the A-10.

#12 Hassan Martin (F, Freshman) • His offense is still a work in progress, but Martin has blocked five or more shots four different times this season. He’ll sneak up from the weak side when guards drive to the rim.

#55 Gilvydas Biruta (F, Junior) • He isn’t Jordan Ware, but Biruta is a mobile big man who can play on the perimeter, and he’s a solid rebounder.

# Jarelle Reischel (G/F, Sophomore) • Reischel is a classic “won’t blow you away with any one skill but good enough at everything to make a team better” kind of player. He’s been playing 25ish minutes per game since the Minnis injury.

The Prediction

Entering the season, Rhode Island was a team that made me nervous because of how closely they played VCU last season and their new additions. Coach Dan Hurley is headed in the right direction, but it’s going to take a little longer than planned. Expect URI to turn the ball over plenty of times en route to a double-digit win by VCU. KenPom picks VCU to win 76-63 with a 90% chance of victory.

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Rhode Island Profile

  • Location: Kingston, Rhode Island
  • Enrollment: 15,800
  • Conference: A-10
  • All time series: VCU leads 3-2.
  • Last meeting: 1/30/13. VCU won 70-64.

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Aaron Williams

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

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