What to expect: VCU wraps up non-conference slate against Cleveland State

Virginia Commonwealth University hosts Cleveland State Monday night at 7:00 PM. 

  • What: VCU (8-3, 0-0) vs. Cleveland State (6-7, 0-0)
  • Where: Stuart C. Siegel Center
  • When: Monday, December 29th at 7:00 PM
  • Watch: CBS 6
  • Listen: Rams Radio

The rundown

The Rams wrap up their non-conference schedule on Monday against Cleveland State, one of three teams outside of the top-100 on VCU’s brutal non-conference schedule. Monday is a final opportunity to improve before Coach Smart pursues the first conference title of his head coaching career. 

The Rams have made strides over the past few weeks: they have been better on defense, the freshmen are rapidly maturing, and JeQuan Lewis has gotten the front-court involved. Monday is important because it gives VCU a final opportunity to improve in 3-point defense and drawing fouls–two key areas.

On 3-point defense, the Rams will be challenged by a bevy of Viking guards who can find and drain open looks from range in Cleveland State’s grind-it-out offense. Cleveland State is shooting .374 from 3-point range, and they rank 24th in percentage of points that come from beyond the arc. VCU’s 3-point defense ranks 301st nationally–a number that needs to improve. 

In terms of drawing fouls, Cleveland State will help VCU. The Vikings rank 337th in defensive FTA/FGA. Because of the Rams’ propensity to shoot 3-pointers, they’ve never excelled at earning free-throw attempts, but the driving talents of Treveon Graham, Melvin Johnson, and JeQuan Lewis combined with the skill and size of Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman should put VCU ahead of their current 287th national ranking. Fouls lead to high probability points from the free-throw line while putting pressure on opponents’ benches. When shots aren’t falling in the depths of the conference slate, a few more free-throws could be the difference between a conference title and another 2nd place finish. 

Don’t discount the Vikings’ abilities based on their losing record. Cleveland State has played a respectable non-conference slate, and they will win their fair share of games in the Horizon League this season. Their best win is over San Francisco, and they have losses to Virginia, Louisville, and Iona. In Charlottesville, they shot .433 from 2-point range and .304 from 3-point range against the Cavaliers’ vaunted pack-line defense. This doesn’t sound great, but UVA may have the best defense in the country. 

VCU should win this game, and they should win it by a lot. But true victory will be decided by how much energy and poise the Rams play with while wrapping up a non-conference slate that no one associated with VCU could even have dreamed of a few years ago. 

The star: #3 Trey Lewis

17.6 PPG (27-64 2PFG, 30-71 3PFG), 4 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.7 SPG, 2.3 TOPG

Lewis is undoubtedly the Vikings’ best player. He can do a little bit of everything, including draining 3-pointers and getting others involved as a playmaker. His big challenge on Monday will be handling HAVOC! and maintaining his energy with the team on his shoulders. 

Supporting cast

#31 Charlie Lee (G, Senior) • He’s only 5-foot-8 but he’s lightning quick and is 16-of-34 (.471) from 3-point range. 

#1 Andre Yates (G, Sophomore) • He’s the best perimeter defender for the Vikings and racks up 9 steals per game using full-court pressure and heavy ball pressure. He can score in a variety of ways. 

#42 Marlin Mason (F, Senior) • Has a jumper and is the most efficient Viking. He picks his shots carefully and is .615 from 2-point range and .464 from 3-point range. It should be fun to watch him match up with Treveon Graham. 

#15 Anton Grady (F, Junior) • He is the Vikings’ 2nd leading scorer at 12.1 PPG, but he’s been awfully inefficient. He’s 45-of-120 (.375) from 2-point range. 

The Prediction

KenPom picks VCU to win 73-59 with a 92% chance of victory. This should be a blow out. True victory will be measured by things other than the final score. 

Cleveland State Profile

Location: Cleveland, OH
Enrollment: ~17,000
Conference: Horizon League 

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Aaron Williams

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

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