Tuesday might mark the greatest day in College Basketball until March Madness time with all-day action that includes two primetime games featuring four of the top five teams in the nation. Michigan State vs. Kentucky and Kansas vs. Duke aren’t the only marquee games on the slate tonight. An inter-state clash goes down on ESPN2 when the Rams of VCU go to John Paul Jones Arena to take on Joe Harris and Virginia in a battle of #14 vs. #25. The Cavaliers stand at small 4.5-point home favorites.
The Cavaliers return the core of a team that had it’s Tournament bubble burst on Selection Sunday. Virginia’s four leading scorers return from last year’s team, including Senior sensation Joe Harris who averaged over 16 points per game last season. Harris returns as a candidate to prove himself as the best player in the ACC this season amongst some tough competition with many major incoming programs and top recruits. VCU will outmatch UVA athletically but handicappers cannot deny the distinct home-court advantage the Cavs feel at John Paul Jones Arena. Virginia will make it a year sans a loss at the Paul Jones if it can defeat VCU. Its last loss came almost a year ago today – November 13 when UVA fell in a surprising loss to Delaware. It should be interesting to see how Joe Harris handles smaller, quicker defenders from VCU. If Harris can use some added size to get his jump shot over Ram defenders, Virginia should be able to slow this game down to a win-able pace.
Unfortunately, slowing the game down against VCU is easier said than done. Shaka Smart also returns his four highest scorers from a team last year that fell in the Round of 32 to eventual runner-up Michigan. VCU also brings back Briante Weber who led the nation in steals last year and is highly-regarded as the toughest on-ball defender in Division-I Basketball. Juvonte Reddic brings a physicality to the paint that I am rather pessimistic about Virginia shutting down. Reddic’s combination of size and nimbleness gives the Rams an inside presence to match the terrific shooting of Treveon Graham and Rob Brandenberg on the perimeter. The days of VCU as a Cinderella ended a couple years ago but this very well may be Shaka Smart’s best team since arriving. I put VCU ahead of Michigan and right on par with Oklahoma State at number eight. The Rams are for real.
I’m taking any points with VCU in this spot. The Rams are a team that plays much better at home as opposed to the road but I believe the market will prove to overvalue Virginia early in the season, which means VCU has some value here.
Free Pick: VCU +4.5
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