Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
Tonight, I’ll focus on a battle between a couple of interesting mid-major teams, as the #94 Akron Zips (6-3), travel to Richmond to face #60 Virginia Commonwealth (6-3, 1-0).
Akron has had a decent start to the season, picking up a good win at Niagara and pushing Dayton into the final minutes, but losing to Eastern Kentucky and getting crushed by Pittsburgh. While the Zips won’t be competing for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, a couple of wins in games like tonight’s and a good conference season could easily see them at 20 wins and in the postseason. Virginia Commonwealth has had a similar start, losing some tough, close games against Rhode Island, East Carolina and Vandy, while picking up a decent win over New Mexico in Cancun.
VCU is a shooting team, plain and simple, as it is among the best in the nation in making threes, and takes a pretty high percentage of its attempts from three. The Rams are pretty solid inside scorers as well, but the perimeter is where they thrive. VCU has generally controlled the ball well, but will be in tough to prevent turnovers against Akron, who are leading the nation in forcing turnovers, causing opponents to give up the ball three out of every ten times down the floor. The bad news for the Zips is that they haven’t managed to gain much of a possession advantage , as they are among the nation’s worst in getting defensive rebounds. VCU typically isn’t a great offensive rebounding team, but it will likely get a good number of second chances.
Like VCU, Akron tend to focus on outside scoring when they have the ball, as they don’t shoot very well inside, while their three point shooting is very close to average. As an outside-oriented team, the Zips rarely get to the line, which is unfortunate for them, as they are strong free throw shooters. VCU hasn’t defended the outside particularly well, so Akron may be able to score efficiently. Like Akron, VCU struggles with defending the glass, and the Zips may be able to nullify their own rebounding deficit here.
Eric Maynor was the CHN Preseason High-Major Player of the Year, and he has played like it so far, leading the CAA in both points and assists, and sitting 6th in the nation overall in scoring average. Moreover, he has been very efficient, shooting over 50% overall and nearly 45% from behind the arc. He has at time struggled with turnovers, including 10 in the Rhode Island loss, but has kept his assist-turnover ratio fairly solid. There isn’t a ton of room for other players to star with Maynor’s large role in the offense, but there are a few solid contributors. Joey Rodriguez is another strong shooter who hits nearly half his outside shots and leads the CAA in steals. Sophomore Larry Sanders has found himself in foul trouble often, but is a huge interior defensive force, 7th in the nation in blocks. Russian Kirill Pishchalnikov has been a decent inside force, but has yet to find any real consistency from game to game.
Akron has been a much more balanced team then VCU, but the drawback is that it doesn’t really have a consistent performer. Forward Nate Linhart leads the team in scoring and rebounding, but his inside shooting hasn’t been good, and when his three point shot stops dropping, as it has of late, his value suffers. Brothers Brett and Chris McKnight take a fair number of inside shots, but aren’t very good either, and are merely decent rebounders. The guard play has been highlighted by 5-9 freshman Anthony Hitchens, who has hit nearly 50% of his threes, and has thrived in an increased role from the first games of the season. Another freshman, Ronnie Steward, started early in the season, and while his shooting was weak, he ran the team very efficiently, but he recently injured his leg, and looks to be out for some time. In the interim, junior Darryl Roberts has filled the void well, leading the MAC in assist-turnover ratio, though not shooting very well. Steve McNees is a solid shooter who has come off the bench to score from behind the line in a few of the Zips’ games.
Akron will give VCU a stiff test, and can easily take a big road win if the defense gets to Eric Maynor and forces a lot of turnovers, but I don’t see the Zips being able to hang with VCU’s shooting.
Winner: Virginia Commonwealth Margin: 3-7
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.