At the Mack Center tonight, VCU takes on Hofstra on ESPNU. This is the first of what I call "Two for Tuesdays" as next Tuesday Hofstra hosts Mason also on ESPNU.
If you said at the beginning of the college basketball season that the loser of this game would be 2-4 in conference after tonight, I would have been very surprised. But here we are, both teams 2-3 trying to get back to .500, with the ultimate goal of getting one of the four first round bye spots in the CAA Tournament.
After getting off to an 8-2 start, VCU has struggled with its defense lately and that has resulted in the Rams splitting their last four games. Before the win over Delaware, in their two straight losses to Northeastern (at home!) and Drexel, the Rams allowed their opponents to shoot 15 of 26 from beyond the arc. And overall it shows as VCU is ninth in the CAA in both scoring defense and FG percentage defense. VCU is still stealing the ball, first in the CAA in steals with 9.0 per game.
The Rams are led by Larry Sanders who averages nearly 15 points per game, 8 rebounds a game and over three blocks per game. With the loss of Eric Maynor due to graduation, Bradford Burgess has stepped up his game, shooting over 50 percent from the field, scoring 11 points per game.
As for Hofstra, they went out to a similar strong start at 7-3. Then the Holiday Festival came, with the Pride losing both games and overall have lost 5 out of 7 since for a record of 9-8. There are several reasons why. First, their shooting percentage lately has been horrid. So much so that they are now next to last in FG percentage in the CAA at 40.5 percent. The second reason is they have been careless with the ball. As the season has progressed, they have dropped in the categories for assist to turnover ratio (eighth in the CAA) and turnover margin (ninth in the CAA).
Charles Jenkins, the preseason co-CAA player of the year, finally got out of his shooting rut against ODU with 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting. Jenkins averages nearly 18 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. What Hofstra has had trouble with all season is finding consistent second and third scorers. Well, as the Who would say "The Kids Are Alright", as two freshmen, Chaz Williams and Halil Kanacevic have stepped forward for the Pride. Before the game against ODU, Williams was averaging nearly 14 points per game while Kanacevic was averaging nearly 10 points per game.
The problem though is that freshmen are prone to bad nights. As was the case against ODU. Against the CAA's number one scoring defense, Kanacevic and Williams combined for only
nine points on 4 of 20 shooting from the field. Still the freshmen have been much more aggressive on the offensive end than the Pride's upper classmen such as Nathaniel Lester, who needs to take more than the five field goal attempts he had against ODU.
Hofstra though has no questions on defense. They are first in the CAA in the following defensive categories, FG percentage defense, blocks, rebounding offense and defensive rebounds. The Pride are also second in three point FG percentage defense and offensive rebounds.
The question tonight will be if the Hofstra bigs can stay out of foul trouble against the deep front line of Sanders, Jamie Skeen, Terrance Saintil and Kirill Pishchalnikov (remember Pishchalnikov in Russian stands for five fouls). And that may be the problem overall for the Pride. The Rams have nine players who average over 10 minutes per game and 11 players who average over 8 minutes per game.
It should be an entertaining game. Both teams are desperately trying to avoid being 2-4 in the CAA at the end of the night. The only problem is that there may not be a large crowd tonight, since it is a Tuesday and school is not in session yet (well the Law School is, but not the full undergraduate yet). Knowing the game is on ESPNU, hopefully the crowd in attendance will be raucous enough to overcome that. I will be at the game blogging and tweeting updates. Hope to see you there.