When the VCU Rams (18-5, 6-2) travel to face the Charlotte 49ers (17-5, 5-3) on Saturday, it will be a game over 17 years in the making.
These teams were familiar with each other in the past when they would face off in the Sun Belt and Metro conferences. Charlotte is also the only team VCU has faced in three different conferences, so there’s definitely some history between them.
Charlotte is one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10 this season, in a three-way tie for second place (as of Wednesday afternoon). VCU head coach Shaka Smart knows his team is in for quite a match-up.
“It’s (going to be) a heck of a challenge; they’ve got a nice team,” Smart said. “They’ve got a great environment at Halton Arena, the place will be rocking, and they’ve got a terrific record there.”
Something Charlotte hasn’t done well this season is perform on offense. They’re averaging just over 64 points per game, the third lowest in the A-10, a league of 16 teams. Free throw shooting is at 64.5 percent and three-point shooting is a mere 25.9 percent, ranking 15th and 16th in the conference respectively.
However, what they lack on offense, the 49ers make up for on defense. Charlotte leads the conference in field goals given up (38.3 percent), 3-pointers given up (30.9 percent) and defensive rebounds (25.6 per game). They also average 8.1 steals per game, third best in the A-10. VCU leads the conference in steals at 12 per game.
“I think defensively they’re one of the best teams around, not just in our league,” Smart said. “They do a great job defending the basket, defending the pain, holding teams to low percentages, and I think they do a really good job of frustrating teams with their defense.”
Charlotte has had a few blowout losses this season. Some question how good they truly are. Their stats are representative of a stifling defense, but an offense that can’t produce quite to the level it should. The 49ers have had three games where they lost by 20 or more points, two of which were in conference to Richmond and George Washington.
A couple players to keep an eye on in the game for Charlotte are Willie Clayton and Pierria Henry.
Clayton is going to be a handful for Juvonte Reddic to contain. He is averaging 8.2 points per game and 7.3 rebounds, in addition to shooting nearly 57 percent from the field, second best in the A-10.
As for Henry, he’s averaging 8.8 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game, and 2.8 steals per game. Think Briante Weber, but with better numbers – aside from steals, of course.
The players admit Charlotte hasn’t really been on their mind too much early in the week. Instead, they’ve been focusing on themselves these past few days.
“We get the extra time in the gym to get shots up,” said VCU point guard Darius Theus. “A big thing is (getting) rest.”
Not playing mid-week is something the Rams haven’t had the fortune of having since mid-December. The extra few days of rest just might make the difference in a difficult road test.
“We know they’re a great team, so we’ve got to be prepared,” Theus said.
Smart agrees: “Winning on the road in the Atlantic 10 is not easy. We’ll certainly go down there and put our best foot forward.”
VCU leads Charlotte 26-15 in the all-time series. If the Rams can eke out a win, they can add to their series lead before Charlotte leaves the A-10 for Conference USA next season.