November 24, 2014

Villanova and VCU are thriving due in large part to their ability to force turnovers.

Whichever team manages to take better care of the ball figures to have the edge in Monday night's Legends Classic semifinal between the 12th-ranked Wildcats and No. 14 Rams at the Barclays Center.

Villanova (3-0) comes off a closer-than-expected 72-65 home win over Bucknell on Thursday, needing a 9-0 run over the final 1:40.

"I would much rather be in a game like this, now that it's over," said coach Jay Wright, who played at Bucknell. "Going into the game, I wanted it to be a 30-point game. But this is good for us."

The Wildcats' offense again looked inconsistent, shooting 38.9 percent. They shot 38.0 percent in a season-opening 77-66 win over Lehigh but were 29 for 51 (56.9 percent) in last Monday's 81-44 win over Maryland Eastern Shore. They were 5 of 22 from deep against the Bison, falling to 20 for 76 (26.3 percent) for the season. They ranked third in the Big East in 2013-14 with a 35.6 3-point percentage and were second with 8.9 3-pointers made per game.

Junior guard Dylan Ennis has been Villanova's best scoring option, averaging 15.0 points on 48.4 percent shooting.

Wright has leaned heavily on his defense, which ranks fourth in the nation with 22.0 turnovers per game.

"We have a lot of experienced guys on our squad this year," said Daniel Ochefu, who leads the team with 1.3 blocks per game. "Everyone is comfortable. We make it tough on ourselves in practice. So when we get to the game we just try to translate that."

Limiting opponents' key players continues to be a struggle, however. The Wildcats surrendered 32 points to Bucknell's Chris Hass on 9-of-12 shooting after he totaled 26 points in his first two games. Villanova gave up 17 points to Maryland Eastern Shore's Devin Martin - 5.0 more than his average - and let Lehigh's Austin Price score a season-high 24 - the same number he has totaled in his other three games.

The Rams (3-0) boast two high-scoring guards in Melvin Johnson (18.3 ppg) and Treveon Graham (18.0 ppg). Johnson is shooting 52.6 percent and the duo is combining to make 5.3 3-pointers per game.

VCU is once again creating havoc for opposing offenses, forcing an average of 20.0 turnovers. The Rams have led the country each of the last three seasons in turnovers forced and averaged 18.2 in 2013-14.

Villanova is committing 9.3 turnovers per game while VCU has been slightly sloppier at 13.0.

The Rams committed a season-low eight turnovers in Thursday's 106-66 win over UMES, however. VCU shot 55.7 percent - including a 15-for-33 mark from 3-point range - and held the Hawks to 38.3 percent shooting.

Seven Rams hit at least one 3-pointer, including freshman Terry Larrier, who made a team-high four and scored 21. The highly touted recruit had gone 3 for 14 from the field in his first two games and was shut out in Tuesday's win over Toledo.

VCU is one of the nation's highest scoring teams with 92.7 points per game.

"When they're defending like that and they shoot the ball like they did tonight, you really don't have a chance," UMES coach Bobby Collins said.

The winner of the schools' first meeting will play Michigan or Oregon on Tuesday night.

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