Western Kentucky (8-3) at Virginia Commonwealth (7-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, December 18, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Stuart C. Siegel Center (7,500) -- Richmond, Virginia. Television: NBCSN. Home Record: WKU 5-0, VCU 4-1. Away Record: WKU 2-2, VCU 2-0. Neutral Record: WKU 1-1, VCU 1-2. Conference Record: WKU 2-0, VCU 0-0. Series Record: VCU leads, 17-15.
GAMES NOTES: In the second of a four-game homestand, the Virginia Commonwealth Rams will entertain the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in a battle of mid-major programs at the Siegel Center Tuesday night.
The Hilltoppers are in the midst of one of the toughest stretches of their season as this is the second game of a three-game road trip that began against Murray State and ends with a contest against nationally ranked Louisville. Western Kentucky was dropped 75-70 by the Racers, ending a six-game win streak in the process. Western Kentucky is now 8-3 overall this year but has split its four true road contests.
After a victory over Alabama in the first game of its current homestand, VCU has now won four straight games and improved its record to 7-3 overall on the campaign. VCU's three losses this season have all come against teams that have spent time in the national rankings with setbacks to Wichita State (53-51), Duke (67-58) and Missouri (68-65). The third game of this homestand pits the Rams against Longwood.
In the all-time series VCU holds a 17-15 edge and has won the last three meetings. The Rams earned two victories in a home-and-home set with the Hilltoppers last season.
Western Kentucky went into halftime trailing by five points against Murray State but was never able to dig out of that hole in the second half. The Hilltoppers connected on only 43.3 percent of their shots from the field including 5-of-25 from 3-point range. Western Kentucky allowed Murray State to hit 49.1 percent of its shots including a 9-of-18 showing from beyond the arc. The Hilltoppers did control the boards with a 41-35 edge in rebounds. Brandon Harris poured in 23 points and collected six rebounds.
On the year the Hilltoppers hold a +8.0 scoring margin by netting 70.4 points per game on 43.7 percent shooting. On the other end Western Kentucky is letting up 62.4 points per game and limiting opponents to just 39.8 percent efforts on field goal attempts. The Hilltoppers also allow the 12th fewest assists in the nation (9.0 pg). Western Kentucky ranks at the top of the Sun Belt Conference and 31st in the nation in rebounding (40.5 rpg). The Hilltoppers were yet again without T.J. Price against Murray State. Price (16.9 ppg, 61 rpg) has been a stellar contributor and the top scorer out of the backcourt but is still listed as questionable with a sprained ankle. Another star guard, Jamal Crook, is also listed as questionable with a sore foot. Crook (14.5 ppg, 4.5 apg) is the second leading scorer and the main facilitator. The loss of those two would be detrimental for the Hilltoppers who have just one other player scoring in double figures in forward George Fant (11.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg).
During its four-game winning streak VCU has beaten each team by double digits and that continued against Alabama as the Rams posted a 73-54 victory. The Rams hit on 47.1 percent of their shots from the field and outscored the Crimson Tide 27-9 on points from beyond the arc. The Rams always hounding defense forced 18 turnovers which were converted into 19 points. The Rams also outscored the Tide 17-5 on second chance points. Troy Daniels nailed four triples and led the team with 16 points.
Other than its three losses, VCU has largely been outclassing its opponents with a scoring margin of +13.6. That is a sign both of efficient offense and stingy defense by Shaka Smart's squad. The Rams are scoring the second most points (74.5 pg) in the Atlantic 10 and shooting at a 44.8 percent clip from the field. The Rams then limit opponents to 60.9 points per game on 43.0 percent shooting. VCU creates a lot of chances for itself by really attacking the offensive glass as the Rams rank 34th nationally in the category (14.2 pg). A quartet of players are scoring in double figures for the Rams led by Treveon Graham. The 6-foot-5 guard (14.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) has the size to get inside and get separation for his shot. He has hit on 50.0 percent of his field goal attempts. Juvonte Reddic (13.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg) is the only real frontcourt option in Smart's guard-heavy rotation and anchors the inside. Daniels (10.6 pg) and Rob Brandenberg (10.3 ppg) can each fill it up as well.
If Crook and Price are able to go at 100 percent in this game the battle of these two backcourts should be a good one. With both fighting nagging injuries though the Rams high-pressure defense will feast on the Hilltoppers' weakened ball-handlers and run out to a fifth straight win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: VA Commonwealth 73, Western Kentucky 62
12/18 10:33:15 ET