What to expect: VCU battles Saint Louis for first place

VCU visits Saint Louis on Tuesday night in a showdown for first place in the Atlantic 10.

  • What: VCU (21-5, 9-2) vs. Saint Louis (19-5, 8-2)
  • Where: Chaifetz Center
  • When: Tuesday, February 19th at 9:00 PM
  • Watch: CBS Sports Network (Verizon 94)
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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The Rundown

Virginia Commonwealth University travels to Saint Louis on Tuesday night as the Rams and Billikens battle for first place and top-25 rankings in a game that could decide the Atlantic 10.

Is it March? It’s tough to remember VCU ever playing such big-time conference games in the CAA before the conference tournament. While their former home fades into anonymity, the Rams are in an all out fight for first place in one of the deepest and most competitive leagues in the nation. VCU may very well have run the table in the CAA this season, but they accepted the A-10 challenge a year early and are in position to accomplish something Coach Smart has never been able to do: win a conference title.

While the Rams are very aware of their standing, Coach Smart assured everyone on Monday, “we’re just trying to win our next game.” His caution comes with good reason. The Ram’s next five game are not for the feint of heart: @SLU, @Xavier, vs. #15 Butler, vs. Richmond, and @Temple.

The Team

Taking things one game at a time, the Rams visit Saint Louis on Tuesday, who according to Smart is “clearly the hottest team in the league.” The Billikens have won their last seven games by an average margin of more than 14 points including a 17-point thumping of #9 Butler and a 17-point domination of Charlotte. They’re 16-2 since starting 3-3, and the only dark spot on their record is an 82-80 OT loss to Rhode Island.

Because they play slow games and don’t put many points on the board, Saint Louis’s offense is under-appreciated–much like Wisconsin’s. It should not be overlooked. They are extremely efficient, and they don’t beat themselves with turnovers or careless fouls. That could be bad news for the Rams. All four of VCU’s regulation losses came in games with 65 or fewer possessions while they are 15-0 in games with greater than 65 possessions. SLU averages 64.9 possessions per game.

The Billikens are even better on defense. They are long and athletic with size that could give the Rams serious problems. They rank 26th in defensive turnover percentage, 21st in defensive rebounding percentage, and 21st in defensive efficiency. VCU will need to force turnovers in order to get transition points if they hope to avoid SLU’s stout defense and win this tough road game.

The Star: #21 Dwayne Evans (JR, SF)

11.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, .514 FG%

Dwayne Evans is a 6-foot-5, 230-pound wrecking ball of a small forward. He’s the Billikens’ leading scorer and rebounder, and he presents some matchup issues for VCU. If Treveon Graham guards him then someone will have to give up serious inches to Corey Remekun. If Troy Daniels draws the assignment then he will be giving up 30 pounds in the matchup.

VCU will have to decide whether to use a bigger lineup or to stay small and compensate with HAVOC! by speeding up the game and forcing turnovers. History suggests the latter rather than the former.

Supporting Cast

#3 Kwamain Mitchell (PG , Senior) • Mitchell was a key player for Saint Louis when the Rams topped the Billikens twice in the 2010 CBI final. He missed the first 11 games of the season with a foot injury, and while his role has diminished, he is an efficient senior floor leader who can make serious plays.

#11 Mike McCall Jr. (SG, Junior) • He is the Billikens’ best perimeter shooter at .425, but he’s in a bit of a slump–both by percentage and number of attempts. He hasn’t hit a 3-pointer since January 31st, but the Billikens have won all four games by double digits.

#51 Rob Loe (F, Junior) • He is “quite literally the tallest player on the team.” Despite being 6-foot-11, Loe likes to step out and shoot from the perimeter. He averages only 3.1 rpg in 22 minutes of action, but he attempts almost three 3-pointers per game.

# Jordair Jett (G, Junior) • Jett is a great distributor and defender whose 6-foot-1, 215 pound frame causes serious problems on the perimeter. Jett handles the ball on plenty of possessions, he can push the ball in transition, he can rebound, and he grabs plenty of steals.

#24 Cody Ellis (F, Junior) • Ellis is tough to miss thanks to his blue streak. Ellis was a starter when VCU last played Saint Louis in 2010, but now he comes off the bench. The demotion has nothing to do with his production, Ellis is the Billikens’ second leading scorer at 11.5 PPG.

The Prediction

This is a bad matchup for VCU. Saint Louis is extremely disciplined on offense and defense, and they will slow this game down and grind it out. This rock fight could go either way. KenPom picks Saint Louis to win 66-65 with a 54% chance of victory.

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Saint Louis Profile

  • Location: Saint Louis, MO
  • Enrollment: 13,785
  • All time series: VCU leads 2-0
  • Last meeting: 3/31/10. VCU topped Saint Louis 71-65.

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Aaron Williams

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

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