After a pleasant 2-1 trip to the Bahamas, VCU returns home to find a trap game waiting for them. A sneaky good Princeton squad, who everyone said would be a tough contest for the Rams from the moment the schedule was announced. It’s a classic trap game, after facing schools from the Big East, Big 12 and SEC; the Rams get a quality team from the lowly Ivy League. But is it a trap if everyone knows it? I guess we’ll find that out when the ball is tipped on Tuesday.
VCU is certainly coming into this home contest on a bit of a high. The Rams took a widely lauded Baylor team to the brink before losing discipline and relinquishing the lead late. Then they salvaged the trip by winning their last two games over St. Johns and LSU. That trip cultivated a feeling of confidence around this season. That brings the Rams to the next opportunity on the schedule, Princeton.
The Tigers earned a 6 seed in last season’s NIT. This year the media picked Princeton to win the Ivy League. It’s an opportunity to pick up a top 100 RPI win; maybe top 50, if the Tigers have an exceptional season. Princeton is 2-2 this year, one of their wins was against a division three opponent. They received lofty preseason projections but the jury is still out on how good this team will actually be.
Through their first four games, the Tigers’ starting five consisted of four seniors and one junior. It’s cliché to cite an experienced group of players as a reason an opponent could be dangerous but it’s the truth. They start 4 seniors and a junior. These guys are versatile and deep, 9 of the 10 most used players stand between 6’4 and 6’11. In typical Princeton offense style, four of the five starters are shooting over 34% from range. They attempt 28 shots from 3 per game. They’re willing to get those shoots up and they will need to fall for them to beat quality teams and the Rams qualify as a quality opponent. VCU may welcome a shooting contest since their 3 point percentage is up to nearly 40%.
After an uneasy start, VCU showed how explosive they could be when at full strength. Junior forward Justin Tillman has dealt with a lingering foot injury since the offseason. In the school’s last two victories Tillman’s presence on the court proved how much he impacts the whole game. He is second on the team in rebounds (28) behind Samir Doughty (29) despite playing 56 fewer minutes than Doughty. Tillman is proving to be the most prolific rebounder of this group. Expect the junior to be a problem for the Tigers, who should struggle in the paint to match his athleticism.
The Case for Discipline
VCU certainly has the superior athletes, but discipline is required for the Rams to come away with another convincing win. That’s the key, maintaining discipline. The last two schools the Rams played in Atlantis were big, talented and most importantly, full of youth. The youth for LSU and St. Johns caused mistakes to pile up and allowed VCU opportunities to pull away in both of those games. It’s unlikely Princeton will hand anybody a win through unforced errors.
Expect this contest to look similar to games against conference rival Davidson. Where the Wildcats are shooting while generally running a more finesse style of offense and VCU is trying to overwhelm Davidson in the paint. Obviously, Princeton and Davidson are not a perfect match however I believe the game will play out in that style. The Tigers are a more balanced group particularly, scoring the ball that could pose issues for VCU if some of their less aware defenders don’t pay attention to their assignments. So it all comes back to discipline. The Rams will either win with it or lose without it.