What to expect: a banged up Western Kentucky visits the Siegel Center

Hot off thumping the Alabama Crimson Tide 73-54, VCU hosts former Sun Belt Conference opponent, Western Kentucky, Tuesday night.

  • What: VCU (7-3, 0-0) vs. Western Kentucky University (8-3, 2-0)
  • Where: Stuart C. Siegel Center
  • When: Tuesday, December 18th at 7:00 PM
  • Watch: NBC Sports Network (Comcast 226/848HD & Verizon 90/590HD)
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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The Rundown

Hot off thumping the Alabama Crimson Tide, 73-54, Virginia Commonwealth University hosts former Sun Belt Conference opponent Western Kentucky. VCU enters the game on a four game winning streak with zero excuses for losing any of the next four games, while Western Kentucky is coming off of a 75-70 loss to a very talented Murray State.

The Rams and the Hilltoppers faced each other last November in the Charleston Classic and then in Bowling Green. Because of weird scheduling, the games were played back to back, and while VCU won both times, the two teams are very different now.

Last November at 1-2, VCU was in an identity crisis after losing Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell, Ed Nixon, and Toby Veal. One of the worst shooting teams in the nation, Western Kentucky was in a funk. Since then, VCU quickly matured and won 24 of their next 28 games before losing to Indiana. Western Kentucky fired head coach Ken McDonald and made a surprise run through the Sun Belt conference tournament to the NCAA Tournament before losing 81-66 to the eventual national champion Kentucky.

This season, VCU continues to build on its HAVOC! identity that it rediscovered against Western Kentucky last season, and WKU kept interim coach Ray Harper and has become a Sun Belt-favorite despite injury problems.

Western Kentucky injuries

Position Date Player Injury Status
PG 12/17/12 Jamal Crook Foot Questionable
G 12/16/12 TJ Price High Ankle Sprain Questionable
F 12/05/12 Nigel Snipes Knee Out for Season
G 11/30/12 Caden Dickerson Shoulder Out Indefinitely

While still playing, junior forward #15 O’Karo Akamune (ankle), sophomore forward #44 George Fant (knee), and freshman forward #20 Aleksejs Rostov (knee) have all dealt with various injuries.

The Team

Western Kentucky owes their 8-3 record to defense. Anchored by the long body of center Teeng Akol, they are effective rebounders, and their opponents have only shot 29.3% from 3-point range. They have length and athleticism in the front court, but VCU has the opportunity to take advantage of their undersized perimeter, especially if Jamal Crook does not play.

Offensively, the Hilltoppers have plenty of room for improvement. They rank 286th in 3-point shooting at .287, and they are prone to turnover problems. At .379, Jamal Crook is the only player shooting over .273 from 3-point range, so his potential absence could worsen their already abysmal 3-point shooting.

Their numbers improve significantly inside the arc–where they are shooting .513. They are a very good offensive rebounding team, and Juvonte Reddic will have his hands full boxing out Teeng Akol’s long body.

VCU has drastically improved their rebounding, but 11 days ago Old Dominion drove the Rams crazy with effective offensive rebounding. VCU needs to limit 2nd chance opportunities on defense.

The Star?

Sophomore guard #52 TJ Price leads the team in scoring and is second in rebounding, assists, and steals with 16.9PPG, 6.1RPG, 2.4 APG, and 1.3SPG. With Price questionable, senior point guard Jamal Crook becomes the Hilltopper’s best player. Sunday against Murray State, Crook played 15 minutes before injuring his foot. He attempted to return, but remained on the bench, and he is questionable for Tuesday.

With his two leading scorers injured, head coach Ray Harper has some holes to fill quickly. The Siegel Center is the last place any team wants to have personel or chemistry issues. Junior shooting-guard-turned-point in the absence of Crook, #12 Brandon Harris, and senior center #22 Teeng Akol are the Hilltopper’s remaining go-to guys.

Harris is coming off a career-high in minutes and points with 39 and 23 respectively against Murray State.

Without the team’s stars, Harris forced his offense with plenty of dribbling and ill advised shots, finishing the day with 8-20 shooting (4-13 from 3-point range) and four turnovers. Despite standing only 6-foot-1, he’s averaging 5.8RPG–including back to back 10-rebound games against Iowa (Big Ten) and Depaul (Big East).

Unlike Harris, former Oklahoma State freshman Teeng Akol has the benefit of playing his normal position. He is a long center, but he has quick feet, ball handling skills, and a serious midrange jumper. He has the ability to hit 3-pointers, but he forced up a few too many on Sunday when he went 1-5 from range. He is a great rebounder and the 10th all-time shot blocker at WKU. Akol has all of the skills, he just needs to put them together like he did on Sunday when he finished with 14PTS and 7REB.

The Prediction

Without all of the personel questions, Western Kentucky would likely struggle in the Siegel Center. If TJ Price and Jamal Crook don’t play, Western Kentucky will be in for a long night. Kenpom picks VCU to win 75-58 with a 93% chance of victory.

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Western Kentucky University Profile

  • Location: Bowling Green, Kentucky
  • Enrollment: 21,048
  • Conference: Sun Belt Conference
  • All time series: VCU leads 17-15
  • Last meeting: 11/23/11. VCU won 68-45.

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Aaron Williams

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

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