Last Sunday, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee formulated its ever-anticipated March Madness bracket, awarding the Shaka Smart-led Virginia Commonwealth University Rams a #5 seed in the South region. 2013 marks VCU’s fourth tournament appearance in the last five years, with the Rams’ most notable success coming in 2011 when the team shocked the nation and made it all the way to the Final Four as one of the “last four in” overall.
This year, the 26-8 Rams are no longer an underdog after finishing 2nd overall in the extremely competitive Atlantic 10 conference. Smart’s squad lost two close games to eventual conference champion Saint Louis, but nevertheless officially made a name for itself as one of the premier defensive teams in the nation. The Rams’ so-called “HAVOC” defense ranked 1st across the board in turnover margin at 8.0, better than 2nd-place Louisville by two whole turnovers per game. While this team can certainly struggle at times on the glass, ranking 168th overall in total rebounds per game, they make up for it in steals and other like turnovers. Scoring categories are led by 6-foot-5-inch DC native Treveon Graham, who is averaging 15.5 points per game this season. However, the beauty about this team is that plenty of other players have the capability of scoring both in transition as well as in the half-court offense, making the Rams a threat to all. Regardless of statistics, with 12 conference wins and a 32-point victory over then-No. 20 Butler under its belt, VCU is certainly battle tested and ready to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament in 2013.
In the 1st (officially 2nd) round of the tournament, VCU will square off against an Akron team that recently beat Ohio University to take home the Mid-American Conference (MAC) title. The Zips, led by senior center Zeke Marshall, pride themselves in the offensive rebounding category and rank among the top 60 teams in the nation in points, rebounds, and assists per game, as well as field goal percentage. However, while Akron shouldn’t be underestimated as a #12 seed, the Rams should easily advance if they force their usual 12+ turnovers and convert steals and deflections into easy buckets.
If VCU advances, they will most likely take on the #4 seed Michigan Wolverines in a sure battle of polar opposites. While Smart is completely defensive and turnover-minded, John Belein’s crew can take care of the basketball better than pretty much anyone, ranking 1st in the nation in turnovers at mere 9.2 per game. Something’s got to give, but when it’s all said and done, I like the Rams to overpower the yellow-clad Ann Arborites and advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Michigan’s Trey Burke is a superstar and an unquestionable candidate for the Wooden Award, but unfortunately, even in the Big 10, he’s never seen a defense like VCU’s. The Wolverines will have a chance to win if they can break the press and knock down long-range shots, but that will be an extremely tall order against the black and gold.
If all goes to chalk (besides a VCU win against Michigan), Smart and co. would look forward to facing off against #1 Kansas in a Sweet Sixteen matchup and most likely #2 Georgetown in the Elite Eight. An upset over Kansas would be extremely tough to achieve, given the Jayhawks’ top-notch scoring capabilities behind freshman sensation Ben McLemore and senior Jeff Withey’s enormous defensive presence. But nevertheless, if anyone can do it, it is with no doubt a team with Shaka Smart at the helm.
With the First Four beginning tonight in Dayton, be sure to stay tuned to All Over the Hill for more news about all of your DC area teams in the big dance!