#17 Virginia Commonwealth University hits the road for its first significant conference road test when it visits Rhode Island Tuesday night.
- What: #17 VCU (13-3, 2-0) at Rhode Island (11-3, 3-0)
- Where: Ryan Center
- When: Tuesday, January 13th at 7:30 PM
- Watch: CBS Sports Network
- Listen: Rams Radio
For three straight seasons, Coach Smart and HAVOC! have finished in second place by only one game. Winning conference titles is tough. It requires defending the home court with near perfection, never dropping road games against the bottom two thirds of the conference, and stealing a few road games against the conference’s best.
The past three quests for conference titles hit an early stumbling block on the road that potentially altered the course of the conference race. In 2012, a horrendous shooting game in Philadelphia left Our Rams short 64-58 against eventual champion Drexel. In 2013, an unbelievable finish across town helped Richmond beat Our Rams 86-74 in overtime. Last season, Patricio Garino’s nightmare-inspiring performance at the top of the 1-3-1 zone propelled GW to a 76-66 victory in the nation’s capitol.
Tuesday reeks of this type of game. Rhode Island is a defensive force with something to prove. Furthermore, they join Dayton and VCU as one of three undefeated teams in the Atlantic 10, and they’re undefeated at home, where they boast an impressive overtime victory over Nebraska.
A win on Tuesday will be an invaluable springboard as Our Rams try to win Coach Smart’s first conference title. A loss won’t spell “game over,” but 4-0 with wins over Davidson and Rhode Island is far preferable to second place behind Dayton and Rhode Island.
Coach Dan Hurley has done an incredible job rebuilding in Kingston. He inherited a team that went 7-24. After 8-win and 14-win campaigns in his first two seasons, his team sits at 11-3.
The Other Rams earn their keep with balanced and effective man-to-man defense. They rebound, force turnovers, and defend the 3-point line at elite levels, and their shot-blocking is exceptional. Hassan Martin is one of the two best shot-blockers in the conference and his one-on-one matchup with Treveon Graham should be an incredible clash of offense and defense.
For the Other Rams to truly contend, they need to be more effective on the offensive end. They rank 254th in offensive turnover percentage and 275th in 3-point shooting percentage. Their entire squad is 67-of-233 (.288) from 3-point range. Even worse, they are 12-of-49 (.245) in conference play. Meanwhile, Melvin Johnson and Treveon Graham are 79-of-197 (.401).
Rhode Island, however, is very effective at drawing fouls, cleaning up the offensive glass, and scoring in the paint. In order to win, VCU needs to force Rhode Island to earn its points the hard way instead of on free-throws and second-chance put-backs.
Rhode Island is still an enigma in many ways. Outside of the Nebraska win at home, the Other Rams have lost to really good teams and beat really bad teams. Recently, their mystery has elevated after only beating Fordham (the Other Other Rams) by three points at home before only beating Duquesne by one point on the road. Either something is up and URI’s record is bloated by the weakest conference schedule thus far, or Rhode Island had a couple of bad games. Either way, Tuesday should reveal a lot about VCU’s chances to win the Atlantic 10 and where Rhode Island truly stands in year three of Coach Hurley’s rebuild.
THE STAR: #0 E.C. Matthews
17.4 PPG (42-81 2PFG, 30-90 3PFG), 4.4 RPG, 2.2 APG, 3.5 TOPG
The left-handed reigning Co-Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year is well on his way to a first-team Atlantic 10 finish. Matthews has NBA potential and he’s a season or two away from earning A-10 Player of the Year honors.
He’s the team’s only respectable 3-point shooter and he can use his athleticism and craftiness to get into the lane to score. He’s also a strong defender. In his second campaign, he’s already one of the most complete players in the Atlantic 10.
#10 Biggie Minnis (PG, Junior) • The Texas Tech transfer missed last season’s game with a hip injury. Could have single-handedly kept the game competitive with his ball-handling.
#32 Jared Terrell (G, Freshman) • The 79th ranked player in the class of 2014 according to ESPN, he had a brilliant start to the seasons but he’s streaky and foul-prone. He’s coming off of a 2-of-12 performance against Duquesne.
#12 Hassan Martin (F, Sophomore) • Martin built a reputation as a defender by blocking 80 shots during his freshman campaign and his offense has greatly developed this season. He’s averaging 11.8 PPG on .670 shooting.
#55 Gilvydas Biruta (F, Senior) • The senior Rutgers transfer is shooting .648 from 2-point range, attacking the offensive glass, and holding down the post while Martin lurks from the weak side, waiting to block shots. He’s a rock in one of the best front-courts in the conference.
#1 Jarvis Garrett (PG, Freshman) • Was recruited as a PG, but is earning minutes off the ball because of the need for 3-point shooting, which he is developing, and his ability to force turnovers.
#13 TJ Buchanan (G, Senior) • Buchanan is the team’s Swiss Army Knife. He’ll back up at point guard, he can defend a variety of positions, and most importantly, he’s an extra ball-handler against HAVOC!.
KenPom picks VCU to win 68-66 with a 59% chance of victory.
RHODE ISLAND PROFILE
- Location: Kingston, Rhode Island
- Enrollment: ~15,800
- Conference: A-10
- All-time Series: VCU leads 4-2.
- Last Meeting: 2/6/2014. VCU won 68-52.