Virginia Commonwealth University, who has lost five of its last nine games, visits Davidson on Thursday night. The Wildcats are riding a seven game winning streak and are tied for first place in the Atlantic 10.
- What: #VCU (21-8, 11-5) vs. Davidson (21-6, 12-4)
- Where: Belk Arena
- When: Thursday, March 5th at 9:00 PM
- Watch: ESPNU
- Listen: Rams Radio
Times change. The last time VCU faced Davidson, the Rams were riding a 6-game winning streak, were 11-3 overall with losses to #2 Virginia, #4 Villanova, and Old Dominion, and were still the heavy favorites to win the Atlantic 10. Now VCU has dropped from 7-0 in the A-10 to 11-5 after losing five of nine games.
In sports, low expectations are a gift. For fans, enjoyment is often a direct function of how much a team is over-performing or under-performing expectations.1 In Davidson, North Carolina fans will enter Belk Arena on Thursday brimming with enthusiasm and enjoyment. Their team was picked 12th in the preseason by A-10 media and coaches. Now VCU on senior day and a visit to Duquesne are the only obstacles standing between the Wildcats and an Atlantic 10 title.
Meanwhile, in the preseason VCU was picked to win the league. Barring a series of low probability events, HAVOC! will once again fall short of a conference title, something Coach Smart has never accomplished in his six years as a head coach. But the Rams’ struggles have fractured enough spirits that expectations are now on the side of fans of HAVOC!.
Thursday offers an opportunity to learn for VCU. The Wildcats lost 5-of-10 games including losses to Saint Joseph’s and St. Bonaventure earlier this season. They have since recovered and are now one of the scariest teams in the conference. Davidson also taunted the doubters by stuffing the win column.
With an exceptional coach, loads of talent, and a proven system, VCU is equally capable of righting the ship and proving the doubters wrong. Combine that with lowered expectations for fans, and there are still plenty of reasons to tune in and cheer for the Black & Gold in 2015.
The Wildcats are an offensive juggernaut. Their starting five players are 216-of-550 (.393) from 3-point range including 37-of-88 (.420) from Jack Gibbs and 68-of-167 (.407) from Tyler Kalinoski. On top of that, they rank 19th nationally in 2-point shooting percentage and 3rd nationally in offensive turnover percentage. Despite giving up size and athleticism at almost every position, Davidson boasts the 10th most efficient adjusted offense according to KenPom.com.
The good news for VCU: Davidson is terrible at defense. They rank 164th in adjusted defensive efficiency and have given up 86 points to Charlotte, 90 points to UNC, and 99 points to Montana, but they have made serious progress in conference play.
Davidson has made up for all of its defensive deficiencies by straight up outscoring opponents. If the running and gunning, up-tempo, non-defense playing Wildcats aren’t the most fun opponent imaginable for VCU, then you don’t have a pulse or you’re a Wisconsin fan.
THE STAR: #4 Tyler Kalinoski
16.2 PPG (81-159 2PFG, 68-167 3PFG, 52-61 FT), 5.8 RPG, 4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.5 TOPG
Kalinoski has a strong and likely under-appreciated case for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. While Davidson’s surprise success is the result of a team effort, he’s the best player on a team that could win the conference after being picked dead last in the preseason by The Blue Ribbon Yearbook. Dead last, as in behind Fordham, George Mason, and Duquesne.
Kalinoski requires attention on every square inch of the court, but he punishes defenders who over help with his ability to get others involved. He finished with 16 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 turnovers in the first meeting.
#4 Jack Gibbs (PG, Sophomore) • After missing seven games with an injury, the sophomore scoring/shooting sensation is returning to full strength at the right time–well the wrong time for VCU. Gibbs was the 3rd most efficient offensive player in the country entering the first VCU game before finishing 1-of-10 from the field with three turnovers. VCU needs to shut him down again in order to win.
# Brian Sullivan (G, Junior) • A Miami (Ohio) transfer, he’s the third piece of Davidson’s three-headed back court monster. He’s only 5-foot-11, but he’s hit 49 3-pointers in A-10 play and is averaging 15.9 PPG over that stretch.
# Peyton Aldridge (F, Freshman) • This team wouldn’t be lapping expectations without the contributions of its freshmen front-court. Aldridge is a talented stretch four. His scoring is down, but he’s capable of going off for 15 points and 8 rebounds on any given night.
# Nathan Ekwu (F, Freshman) • He’s the lone starter that doesn’t demand being chased off of the 3-point line. Ekwu has the tools to be a four year starter at Davidson depending upon the health of Jake Belford.
KenPom picks Davidson to win 77-73 with a 65% chance of victory.
- Location: Davidson, NC
- Enrollment: ~1,850
- Conference: A-10
- All-time Series Tied 1-1.
- Last Meeting 1.7.2015. VCU won 71-65.
- The combination of low expectations and remarkable performance almost guarantees March 2011 will never be replicated for VCU fans. It also means UConn probably has the most spoiled (not entitled, that’s reserved for Kentucky) fans in the country after winning the National Championship in 2011 after not even getting a bye in the Big East Tournament and in 2014 as a 7-seed. ↩