Men's Basketball

Opponent preview: What to know about VCU before SU’s Battle 4 Atlantis opener

Elizabeth Billman | Senior Staff Photographer

The Orange have never lost to VCU, and the last contest came almost three decades ago when SU beat the Rams 94-81 in the Carrier Dome.

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Both Syracuse and VCU enter their opening Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament game after nonconference losses. The Orange fell by 15 points to Colgate last week, allowing 100 points and 18 3-pointers. 

The Rams are coming off their second-straight home loss, a 56-54 defeat to Chattanooga. VCU allowed the game-winning jump shot with 0.4 seconds left and lost to a SoCon team. 

As both teams head to the Bahamas for the first of a three-game tournament, here’s everything you need to know about VCU (2-2, 1-0 Atlantic 10) before it faces Syracuse (2-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast): 

All-time series

Syracuse leads 3-0


Last time they played

The Orange have never lost to VCU, and the last contest came almost three decades ago when SU beat the Rams 94-81 in the Carrier Dome. Forwards Lawrence Moten and John Wallace along with center Adrian Autry — now an SU assistant coach — all posted 17 points in the victory. Moten was 8-of-11 from the free throw line. The Orange led by 19 points at halftime and continued their dominant performance through the second half, posting a double-digit victory. 

The nonconference matchup came in early December, and head coach Jim Boeheim’s team went on to the championship game of the Big East Tournament but lost by 33 points to Seton Hall. SU missed the 1993 NCAA Tournament at 20-9 overall. 

KenPom odds

KenPom gives Syracuse a 69% chance of winning, with a projected score of 70-64.

The Rams Report

VCU’s top scorer last season, Na’Shon “Bones” Hyland, entered the NBA Draft and was selected No. 26 overall by the Denver Nuggets. He became the Rams’ first draft pick in 11 years, but now head coach Mike Rhoades and VCU need to replace the lost production — 19.5 points per game, 45 steals and 4.7 rebounds per game. 

Forward Vince Williams averaged the second-most points last year (10.6), but has only jumped to 12.3 through four games this year. Senior guard KeyShawn Curry has stepped up too, nearly doubling his average points per game compared to last season. But the Rams haven’t topped 60 points in a game this season, posting 57 and 48 points in their wins over Saint Peter’s and Vanderbilt, respectively.

The Rams rank 237th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, hence their numerous low-scoring contests. They rank 311th in 3-point shooting percentage (26.3%) too. 

But their defense is what makes them more challenging. They rank 24th in adjusted defensive efficiency, 14th in blocks, sixth in non-steal turnover percentage and field in effective field goal percentage. The Rams, an Atlantic-10 team, will play one of the most challenging portions of their regular season over the next week in the Bahamas. They put together runs against Chattanooga but couldn’t successfully finish them, eventually falling right before the buzzer. 

“Our actions against (the) zone, our guys know what to do,” Rhoades said ahead of the team’s trip to Paradise Island. “We just got to be really aggressive against it. And put pressure on them.”

How Syracuse beats VCU

VCU head coach Rhoades said the Rams had a number of “lousy turnovers” where they threw poorly placed 50-50 passes. VCU ranks 353th nationally in offensive turnover percentage, an area the Orange will look to exploit. 

Boeheim complimented the Orange’s 20 forced turnovers in their win over Drexel, something that helped balance out a weaker rebounding performance. Those forced turnovers will help the Orange if VCU wins the boards, though neither team is a highly-ranked rebounding unit, according to KenPom. 

The Orange are the better shooting team, and as long as one of their shooters can get hot — between Buddy and Jimmy Boeheim, Joe Girard and Cole Swider — then Syracuse will be just fine. The Orange need a better performance from their forwards, particularly inside, than the Colgate game. VCU is good at defending both the perimeter and inside, but Syracuse should be able to wear them down. 

Stat to know: 6-of-11

The Rams shot 6-of-11 from the free throw line in their two-point loss on Saturday. Rhoades emphasized that it was an area they needed to improve, similar to Boeheim’s comments regarding the Orange’s early-season free throw struggles. The missed shots cost the Rams in a close game, and though their game with Syracuse likely won’t come down to such a close margin, missed free throws from both teams might make this a lower-scoring game.

Player to watch: Vince Williams, Forward

Williams has taken over as the Rams’ top scorer after Hyland was selected in the NBA Draft after the end of last season. Time and time again, he pulled VCU back into the game against Chattanooga, though the Rams eventually fell. He tied the score on five occasions with a field goal or a free throw. 

“We need him to score night-in and night-out. And I think he’s ready for that role,” assistant coach J.D. Byers said of Williams before the season, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.


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