Fresh off of a dominant win against Dayton, the VCU Rams saw their season hit a speed bump Tuesday when their scheduled game against UMass was postponed. The UMass program has been put on pause due to COVID-19 issues with their program.
Such is the life of college basketball in 2021: schedules are written in graphite, malleable, subject to change at a moment’s notice.
Thus, VCU fans will experience a rare treat this weekend: back-to-back games. The Rams will face the La Salle Explorers on Saturday as scheduled, followed by a game against the Fordham Rams on Sunday. The game against Fordham was originally scheduled for February, but the Atlantic 10 conference moved the game up to Sunday. No reason was given, but the move was likely to give more rescheduling options later in the season so the A10 can complete its full schedule.
Heading into the weekend, here are where the Rams sit in important metrics, followed by analysis of the weekend’s matchups:
VCU (11-4, 4-2)
A10 standings: T-3rd. 4-2 record
NET Ranking (as of 1/28): 45th
KenPom (as of 1/28): 60th
Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology: Next Four Out
Top Scorer: Bones Hyland (18.6 PPG)
Top Rebounder: Vince Williams (5 RPG)
Most Assists: Ace Baldwin (4.7 APG)
Picked to finish ninth in the conference, VCU has exceeded expectations and are in play for a double-bye for March’s A10 tournament. The tournament will be held partially on VCU’s home floor, the Siegel Center.
VCU’s defense is among the best in the nation. Hason Ward is 14th in the country with 36 total blocks, frequently blocking shots at a clip of three or four a game. As a team, VCU ranks second in the country with 6.13 blocks per game, training just Auburn. The ability VCU has to erase multiple field goals per game is crucial, and has given head coach Mike Rhoades perhaps his best defense in his four-year tenure at the helm of the VCU Rams.
Rhoades likely has his best scorer during his tenure in Hyland. Hyland has near-unlimited range, making shots from the logo look effortless. On the season, Hyland is shooting just over 37% from deep, becoming one of the most lethal shooters in the conference.
Hyland and the VCU Rams have one goal this weekend: avoid any trap games. VCU is favored in both games and need to avoid any bad losses to stay alive in the hunt for an at-large bid. At 45th in the NET, VCU finds itself squarely on the bubble for the NCAA tournament.
Jan. 30: vs La Salle (7-9, 4-5)
A10 standings: T-10th. 4-5 record
NET Ranking (as of 1/28): 188th
KenPom (as of 1/28): 173rd
On Jan. 23, La Salle got a signature win by upsetting the preseason conference favorites, Richmond. Aside from that afternoon at the Robins Center, the season for the Explorers has been pretty pedestrian. La Salle appears to have a good enough team to avoid the Wednesday Night Pillow Fight come A10 tournament time, but aside from that La Salle lacks the ability to do real damage to the top teams in the conference.
However, it is the A10, and teams can win any given night. The win against Richmond is the perfect example of just that. Jhamir Brickus is among the best freshmen in the conference, a player that is far and away the best passer on the Explorers roster. Jack Clark leads the team in points per game, but is averaging just nine points per game.
All in all, VCU should be able to win Saturday against La Salle, but La Salle is a team that can definitely play spoiler. Look for VCU’s game plan to focus on top rebounders Clark and Christian Ray in order to control time of possession.
Prediction: VCU 73, La Salle 63
Jan. 31: vs Fordham (7-9, 4-5)
A10 standings: 12th, 1-8 record
NET Ranking (as of 1/28): 323rd
KenPom (as of 1/28): 273rd
In yet another A10 matchup against two Rams, VCU holds the significant historical advantage. VCU is 10-1 in the last 11 matchups against Fordham, with the only blip being a two point loss in 2017.
This season has been especially tough for Fordham, a team that already was coming off of a last place finish in the A10 last season. Fordham saw its entire non-conference schedule get wiped out due to COVID-19 issues, debuting in a 24-point loss to George Washington on Dec. 30. Head coach Jeff Neubauer was let go on Jan. 26 following a 52-42 loss to Rhode Island. Neubauer leaves the Bronx with a 61-104 record over six and a half seasons.
Fordham would lose on Wednesday to Duquesne in its first game post-Neubauer. Overall, Fordham has seven double-digit losses in nine games played so far this season.
Despite the tough sledding that has been Fordham’s 2020-21 season, Fordham has one significant bright spot. The Rams pulled off a shocking upset at Rose Hill Gym against Dayton, winning 55-54 on Jan. 5. Chris Austin scored 20 of Fordham’s points, punctuated by the go-ahead 3-pointer with less than 30 seconds remaining. The win has Fordham ahead of Saint Louis and Saint Joseph’s in the standings.
As for Sunday, there is not much to point to in terms of a Fordham victory. Fordham is among the worst teams in the nation, and are challenging Saint Joe’s for the bottom of the conference. That said, VCU needs to contain Austin and Joel Soriano, Fordham’s two double-digit scorers. Soriano is also a gifted rebounder and shot blocker who, on the right day, could give VCU headaches. But, based on the evidence, it should be an easy Sunday evening for the VCU Rams.
Prediction: VCU 83, Fordham 59
VCU fans, enjoy the doubleheader weekend at the Siegel Center. It is a rare treat to see your team play back to back games in the regular season, and it (probably) will be two fun games for the Rams. Enjoy, and remember to take care of yourselves and each other.