What to expect: Getting better and Illinois State

There’s nothing wrong with losing. Now it’s time to get better.

  • What: VCU (4-2, 0-0) vs. Illinois State (3-2, 0-0)
  • Where: Redbird Arena
  • When: Tuesday, December 2nd at 8:00 PM
  • Watch: CSN+/SNY
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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The Rundown

There’s nothing wrong with losing. There is something wrong with losing and failing to improve. The Rams have shown flashes of brilliance this season and they have several impressive wins, but there is plenty of tape to pore over from the Villanova and Old Dominion losses – which is promising because the Rams have some easy fixes to show improvement.

Illinois State is a good opponent for testing this week’s improvement. On the one hand, VCU dominated the Redbirds 96-58 last season. On the other hand, Illinois State beat the Old Dominion Monarchs 64-45 on November 23rd. Yes, the same Monarchs who looked unbeatable while limiting VCU to 18 first-half points, shot 9-of-17 from 3-point range, and only turned the ball over 12 times against HAVOC!.

It’s a long season and VCU always gets better. Under Coach Smart, they’ve always gotten way better. Tuesday is an excellent opportunity to put the lessons of the past nine days into action while competing against a high quality opponent.

The Team

The Redbirds return three key backcourt members from last year’s team that finished 18-16 despite roster turnover and adversity. After a sluggish start, Illinois State reinvented itself as a pressing guard-oriented team that used pressure defense most of the game. This season, they will be able to put a more traditional lineup on the court thanks to some additions in the front court.

Head coach Dan Muller’s program is still a few seasons away from arriving, but his teams have shown consistent improvement. Tuesday is as much an opportunity for Illinois State as they try to return to the upper echelon of the Missouri Valley Conference as it is for VCU to show improvement.

The Star: #44 DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell

15.8 PPG (23-41 2PFG, 5-15 3PFG), 5.8 RPG, 1.2 APG

A junior college transfer from Eastern Oklahoma State, he shot 40.6% from 3-point range last season, but it’s been his ability to score consistently and inside the arc that has impressed this season. The addition of Akoon-Purcell makes this season’s game incomparable to last season’s game.

Supporting Cast

#1 Paris Lee (PG, Sophomore) • Lee’s first college basketball game was against VCU in the Siegel Center. The southpaw point guard turned the ball over nine times in the ultimate trial by fire. He’s a talented guard who’s better than VCU fans will remember.

#3 Daishon Knight (G, Senior) • A lot of pressure was put on the offense of Knight last season. With more balance on the team, he should be able to thrive on both ends of the court this season.

#23 Deontae Hawkins (F, Freshman) • Hawkins is a freshman, but his size gives the Redbirds a look they didn’t have last season. He’s capable of hitting 3-pointers and he is an above average defender.

#22 Reggie Lynch (F, Sophomore) • Lynch was the front court anchor of the Redbirds guard-heavy attack. He led the NCAA in block percentage last season and is on pace to replicate his performance this year.

#4 Bobby Hunter (G, Senior) • Hunter is one of the better shooters the Rams have faced all season. He’s 10-of-18 (.556) from range. The Rams have struggled with rotating to defend 3-point shooters in the post Rob Brandenberg era. They can’t afford to leave him open.

The Prediction

KenPom picks VCU to win 74-73 with a 57% chance of victory. I think the Rams either dominate from tip-off to buzzer or squeak by with a close victory. It all comes down to how thy react to the Old Dominion loss.

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Illinois State Profile

  • Location: Normal, Illinois
  • Enrollment: 20,500
  • Conference: MVC
  • All time series: VCU leads 4-1
  • Last meeting: VCU won 96-58

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Aaron Williams

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

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