What to expect: VCU finishes season at inconsistent Temple

VCU travels to Temple on Sunday at noon for their final regular-season game.

  • What: VCU (24-6, 12-3) at Temple (22-8, 10-5)
  • Where: Liacouras Center
  • When: Sunday, March 10th at 12:00 PM
  • Watch: CBS 6
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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Virginia Commonwealth University travels to Temple on Sunday at 12:00 PM for their final regular-season game.

The Rundown

Wednesday night, Xavier topped Saint Louis in overtime, and this VCU-Temple matchup took on new importance. With a win on Sunday, VCU can share the Atlantic-10 title and take the #2 seed in Brooklyn. If Saint Louis loses to La Salle, VCU will be the outright A-10 champion and the #1 seed in Brooklyn. NCAA Tournament seeding is also on the line. The Ram’s best road victories are Charlotte (RPI #79) and Xavier (RPI #81), so a win over Temple (RPI #43) would be a valuable addition to their resume for Selection Sunday.

Temple has their own motivation to win. In addition to senior day, the Owls are fighting for a first round bye in Brooklyn. If VCU, St. Louis, Butler, Temple, and La Salle are the top tier, one of those four teams will have to play on Thursday and win four games if they want an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Temple is currently in that fifth spot, but plenty can and will change this weekend.

VCU is under pressure to succeed, but one year ago they were in the toughest place in college basketball: a bubble/outside team whose only route to the NCAA Tournament was a conference tournament title. Today, most major bracketologists agree VCU is already a lock for the NCAA Tournament even if they lose Sunday and next Friday in the A-10 Tournament. So, the Rams are breathing easier than they were in 2011 or 2012.

Coach Smart certainly seemed more relaxed after Wednesday’s 93-82 victory over Richmond, “We’re excited, when you come off of a game like tonight, and our last few games like we’ve had: Xavier, Butler, Richmond, now we get the opportunity to let our hair down, go up to Philly, and see what we can do, but it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”

The Team

Temple is the definition of capable but inconsistent both on an individual and a team level. Just three days after losing to Canisius at home in December, Temple dismantled #3 Syracuse’s 2-3 zone in Madison Square Garden en route to an 83-79 upset victory. Temple has now knocked off a top-10 team for five consecutive seasons. Days later Temple went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and gave #6 Kansas a run for their money in one of the toughest environments in the nation.

Then the Owls faded, losing games to Xavier, St. Bonaventure, Butler, and St. Joseph’s before an extremely embarrassing loss to Duquesne in Philadelphia on Valentine’s day. The Owl’s are perfect since that loss with six straight wins including games over UMASS, La Salle, and Charlotte, putting them in contention for a first-round bye.

Sunday will be tough for VCU. Temple ranks 9th in offensive turnover percentage and 13th in offensive steal percentage. The Owls are streaky shooters, but they just don’t make careless turnovers which is bad news for the Rams. VCU is 24-0 when forcing 15+ turnovers, and they are 0-6 when forcing fewer than 15 turnovers. Boasting the 10th most experienced lineup nationally, the Owls typically limit their rotation to six or seven players. The cumulative effect of the press will be crucial, and if this is a possession game, VCU could win simply because they have more gas left in the tank.

VCU has battled through the difficult Atlantic 10 gauntlet facing fourteen talented teams many of whom the Rams had never played. Temple is the final hurdle. With the Owls departing for the Big East at the conclusion of the season, VCU will want to hand them a loss no matter whether it’s the Canisius-losing or Syrcause-beating Temple that shows up on Sunday.

The Star: Khalif Wyatt

19.5 PPG, 4.1 APG, 2.8 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 42.1 FG%

I would vote him conference player of the year. ~Coach Smart

Wyatt is a scoring machine who leads the A-10 in points and ranks 7th in assists. He’s not incredibly athletic, but he’s extremely crafty, and he is a prolific 3-point shooter. He scored 33 points against Syracuse while going 15-15 from the charity stripe. He is 28-31 from the free-throw line in the past three games, so VCU needs to limit the fouls which could be difficult against a talented guard on the road.

Supporting Cast

#2 Will Cummings (G, Sophomore) • Cummings is a talented perimeter defender, but his offense is still developing. He is capable of scoring double figures, but his shot attempts are usually limited.

#33 Scootie Randall (G, Senior)Rob Brandenberg and Melvin Johnson struggled to contain Roosevelt Jones against Butler. Randall is a 6-foot-6, 225 pound guard cut from the same cloth with an added 3-point shot. Randall is capable but he is also an inconsistent high volume shooter. He was 3-16 in the Owls’ loss to Canisius and 5-15 in their loss to Xavier.

#3 Anthony Lee (F, Sophomore) • Anthony Lee is an all Big East (or whatever it’s going to be called) player in the making. He is averaging 10.6 PPG and 7.3 RPG on a senior laden team. He ranks 9th nationally in defensive rebound percentage, and he will be the Owls’ defacto leader next season.

#32 Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (F, Senior) • Since fouling out in Temple’s embarrassing loss to Duquesne, Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 10.3 RPG including 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists against UMASS, and 23 points and 18 rebounds against La Salle.

#22 Jake O’brien (F, Senior) • O’brien is one of the Owls’ only options off of the bench. A 1,000+ point scorer from Boston University, he is one of the best 6th men in the A-10. His size and versatility is very important to Temple’s ability to play with such a small rotation.

The Prediction

If VCU can’t force turnovers and Khalif Wyatt, Scootie Randall, and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson have good afternoons, then the Rams will have a tough time winning. If VCU can score on Temple’s mediocre defense and force turnovers, then the Rams will win. Temple’s inconsistency is their biggest weakness. KenPom picks VCU to win 75-71 with a 62% chance of victory.

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Temple Profile

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Enrollment: 38,648
  • All time series: N/A
  • Last meeting: N/A

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Aaron Williams

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

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