Column: Analyzing VCU's potential matchups
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Mar 21, 2013, 12:42
Two years ago, when the Virginia Commonwealth University menís basketball team made the most implausible dash to the Final Four in the history of the NCAA tournament, the team from Richmond was a largely unknown commodity.
The Rams were expected to lose at every stage of that competition, and each improbable victory left their next opponent with minimal time to prepare for a unique style of play.
This yearís VCU team wonít be sneaking up on anybody.
Virginiaís highest-seeded tournament inclusion has basked in the national spotlight all season. The Rams have played and fared well against traditional powerhouses and lingered in or around the top 25 polls for most of the season. But while they lost the element of surprise, they gained a lot in the way of talent.
Make no mistake, VCU is more than capable of replicating the run.
That said, Selection Sundayís draw could certainly have been kinder to VCU coach Shaka Smart and his fifth-seeded squad, which will open up against a familiar 12th-seeded Akron team on Thursday at 9:45 p.m.
Boasting a record of 26-6 and riding high after winning the Mid-American Tournament championship, the Zips are no pushovers. But letís assume for argumentís sake that VCU advances. Probable matchups with fourth-seeded Michigan and top-seeded Kansas loom large in the Round of 32 and Sweet 16, respectively.
Though theyíll play the unfamiliar role of favorites against Akron, the Rams should breathe easier knowing theyíve beaten the Zips three times since 2010. More importantly, the matchup favors VCU from a tactical standpoint.
The Zips will be playing without the services of their starting point guard, who was reportedly suspended from the team. Moreover, Akron averages a generous 13.6 giveaways per game, ranking 207th in the nation in that respect.
Handling the Ramsí full-court press with a fully staffed backcourt is difficult enough. Doing so with a depleted stable of guards and a turnover-prone offense? That order is too tall to fill ó even for Zeke Marshall, Akronís 7-foot center.
If they move on, the Rams should encounter their biggest challenge of the tournament in their second game. There may be no worse on-paper matchup for VCU than Michigan. The Wolverines are the stingiest team in the country in terms of ball security, averaging a paltry 9.2 turnovers per game.
Battle-tested guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. should be able to break through the VCU press with relative regularity. Making VCUís task more daunting, the game would be played in Auburn Hills, MI.
However, if thereís a silver lining for the hypothetical underdogs, itís this: After winning their first 16 games, the Wolverines have dropped six of their last 12.
When coupled with the Ramsí propensity for hanging tough against the blue bloods of college basketball, Michiganís recent dip in form gives VCU at least a puncherís chance at knocking out the 1989 national champion.
An upset would propel VCU into possible encounters with Kansas in the Sweet 16 and Georgetown in the Elite 8. The Rams ousted both of those teams from the 2011 bracket.
Of course, thereís a strong possibility that all of this speculation is rendered moot before sunrise on Friday.
The Zips could quite feasibly rise to the occasion and stun the Rams. Even if they donít, assuming that the South Region Ė or any other Ė will play out according to seeding is beyond presumptuous.
VCU could see a plucky South Dakota State team in the third round or North Carolina in the Sweet 16. The NCAA tournament is a fickle competition, rife with head-scratching collapses, inexplicable uprisings, scapegoats and glory.