What to expect: VCU looks to force turnovers and get revenge against Saint Louis

Second seeded #25 VCU faces top seeded #16 St. Louis Sunday in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship.

  • What: #2 VCU (26-7, 12-4) vs. #1 St. Louis (26-6, 13-3)
  • Where: Barclays Center – Brooklyn, NY
  • When: Sunday, March 17th at 1:00 PM
  • Watch: CBS
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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Second seeded #25 VCU faces top seeded #16 St. Louis Sunday in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship. The Rams are looking for revenge after the Billikens rocked them 76-62 on February 19th.

The Rundown

“I’m proud of our guys, but we’re not satisfied.” ~Coach Smart

This is exactly what VCU signed up for when they joined the Atlantic 10. Sunday, two top-25 teams will face off in a world class basketball arena, in front of big media and big crowds, and neither team will be worrying about the bubble (sorry Drexel). This game is about two tournament teams playing high quality basketball.

There are two very important stats to consider when thinking about this game: 1) VCU is 26-0 when forcing 15+ turnovers and is 0-7 when forcing fewer than 15 turnovers. 2) After losing to a team, Coach Smart is 21-3 in “revenge games”.

In the first meeting, St. Louis had their way with VCU. The Rams only forced eight turnovers and the Billiken’s stifling defense made VCU’s high octane offense (8th nationally at 78.2ppg) look totally lost. It took the Rams 15:52 to hit double digits, and Treveon Graham and Rob Brandenberg were limited to 5-22 shooting. On Saturday, Coach Smart summed it up, “St. Louis was better than us in every aspect of the game on that night.”

So St. Louis limited their turnovers to fewer than that magic fifteen number, but there is good news. Coach Smart gets revenge. He has only lost back-to-back games to a team three times in his 145 game coaching career. The last time it happened was in the 2011 CAA Championship game to ODU (*some fans still dispute that result). The 21 times he’s gotten revenge have been pretty satisfying. Three of those games immediately come to mind:

Opponent Game #1 Result Game #2 Result The importance
George Mason 2/15/11 L, 51-71 3/6/11 W, 79-63 +36 point swing
Drexel 1/8/12 L, 58-64 13/5/12 W, 59-56 NCAA Berth
Butler 4/2/11 L, 62-70 3/2/13 W, 84-52 +40 point swing

The Team

The Bilikens started the season 3-3 and are 23-3 since then. They have won 14 of their last 15 games with the only loss coming to Xavier in overtime in the Cintas Center where the Musketeers have won 53 of their last 56 conference games.

Because they play at such a slow tempo and don’t put many points on the board, Saint Louis’ 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. Because of the Billiken’s size, the Rams could be in for another foul plagued game. VCU fouled 24 times in the first meeting.

The Billikens are even better on defense. They are long and athletic with size that could give the Rams serious problems. They rank 24th in defensive turnover percentage, 47th in defensive rebounding percentage, and 11th 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 game.

“They are a legitimate contender for the whole thing. I believe that wholeheartedly.” ~Butler coach Brad Stevens

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.

Since St. Louis lost to Rhode Island, Dwayne Evan has been a machine. He scored in single fugures in 11 of the Billiken’s first 17 games. Since then, he has scored in double figures in every game including outbursts of 25, 24, 24, 22, and 21 points. In two games in the A-10 Tourney, he has 49 points on 15-19 shooting, 20 rebounds, and 4 steals.

Supporting Cast

#3 Kwamain Mitchell (PG , Senior) • 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 .423. He’s a streaky shooter and he is 2-8 from range in the A-10 Tourney.

#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. He led St. Louis with 16 points on 6-9 shooting, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover in the February game.

#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

Turnovers or no turnovers, revenge or no revenge, this is a tough matchup for VCU. Not only is St. Louis a really good team, they fit the mold of the type of team that can beat VCU: slow, deliberate, big at every position, and efficient. Either team could win by double digits and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Either way, VCU is still going to the big dance, and they still have an amazing new fan:

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St. Louis Profile

  • Location: Saint Louis, MO
  • Enrollment: 13,785
  • All time series: VCU leads 2-1
  • Last meeting: 2/19/13. St. Louis won 76-62.

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Aaron Williams

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

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