7th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth University opens the 2015 NCAA Tournament against 10th-seeded Ohio State in Portland, Oregon on Thursday afternoon.
- What: #7 VCU (26-9, 12-6) vs. #10 Ohio State (24-10, 11-7)
- Where: Moda Center – Portland, Oregon
- When: Thursday, March 19th at 4:40 PM
- Watch: TNT
- Listen: Rams Radio
VCU became the first team from Virginia to go to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments on Sunday when the Rams earned an automatic bid after winning their first Atlantic 10 Tournament. Each year, whether VCU is in the First Four or is a 5-seed, Coach Smart can be heard wisely saying, “it’s more about match-ups than seeds.”
For 7th-seeded VCU, Ohio State presents a tougher “second-round” match-up than their previous four opponents: #6 Georgetown, #5 Wichita State, #12 Akron, and #12 Stephen F. Austin. For starters, Ohio State boasts a dual point guard lineup with first team All-American D’Angelo Russell and senior standout Shannon Scott. They present an effective answer to VCU’s March Maddening HAVOC!.
Add in seniors Sam Thompson and Amir Williams, and the Buckeyes have a three-senior, one-superstar combination that spells toughness in March. Weird things happen when talented and underperforming seniors are faced with the end of their college careers, and Russell is as good as any player in the country.
Weirder things happen when you throw in one of the best coaches in basketball. The uber-talented Buckeyes are coming off of a disappointing season by comparison for Coach Thad Matta. His worst season in Columbus was his first when Ohio State won 20 games. Since then, he’s averaged 27.8 wins per season while earning four #2 seeds and two #1 seeds in ten seasons.
But Coach Shaka Smart and HAVOC! are highly capable of winning what feels like an upset despite VCU’s higher seed. It all starts with which team shows up to Portland. If it’s the sharp-shooting Rams from Brooklyn, then VCU could win by dropping more than 80 points like they did against Davidson. Few teams, basically only those with #1 seeds, can top VCU on a hot shooting night when the Rams play Aggressive, Confident, Loose (ACL) basketball.
If not, then this game could follow the script of VCU’s 62-59 upset over offensive-juggernaut Wichita State in Portland in 2012. The Shockers boasted one of the best offenses in the country and were picked as the sequel to VCU’s dramatic run to the Final Four in 2011. VCU spoiled the party in the exact same arena they are visiting this week by taking the Shockers out of their element and winning a scrappy game that left us all with the question, “Seriously, how did VCU just win that game?”
Which Ohio State team shows up is almost as much of a mystery as which version of VCU visits the “Rose City.” The Buckeyes went 16-2 at home this season, but were 4-6 on the road and 1-2 on neutral court games. Their most impressive wins were against Minnesota (18-5, 6-12) on a neutral court and Minnesota on the road. Meanwhile, VCU went 9-4 outside of the comfortable confines of the Stuart C. Siegel Center against top-100 teams, including three wins in three days this past weekend against teams all statistically better than Minnesota.
Thursday is a tough challenge, but March rarely offers anything less. If history suggests anything, go with HAVOC! After all, VCU is riding a five-game winning streak, Coach Smart is 33-10 in the month of March, and HAVOC! is 8-1 against teams from the state of Ohio.
The Buckeyes’ backcourt is as good at playmaking as almost any backcourt in the nation. Ohio State ranks 12th nationally in 2-point percentage and they attack the rim relentlessly with the passing of Scott, the skill of Russell, the athleticism of Thompson, and the size of Williams. Led by Marc Loving, the team was also effective from 3-point range in the non-conference, but their percentage and number of attempts plummeted in the Big Ten.
Turning the Buckeyes into a jump-shooting team would be an effective way to the lull the offense into a win-ugly type game. The Rams probably can’t out-skill Russell and Co., so this would be an effective path to success.
This year’s team isn’t as strong defensively as previous Thad Matta squads, especially those led by the forever-guard Aaron Craft, but they are still as good as anyone in the Atlantic 10. They’ll use 3/4s-court token pressure, but their length is more effective in the half-court where they force tons of turnovers. They are simultaneously one of the best teams in the country at not fouling.
One key weakness is defensive rebounding. Teams of HAVOC! past were relentless on the offensive glass. If Mo Alie-Cox can continue his dominant play from the Atlantic 10 Tournament, his extra 8 to 10 second-chance points could tilt the scales in favor of the smaller, faster HAVOC!. Plus, his dunks are the energizing answer to the absence of sparkplug Briante Weber.
A second weakness is buried a little deeper in the scouting report. Opponents have not shot a high 3-point percentage against the Buckeyes, but Ohio State ranks 290th in opponent fraction of shots attempted from 3-point range which is a better indicator of 3-point defense. VCU wastes plenty of possessions on forced jumpers, but if Treveon Graham and Melvin Johnson take deliberate 3-pointers, then the Rams could make 10+ 3-pointers for their fourth consecutive game.
THE STAR: #0 D’Angelo Russell
19.3 PPG (128-259 2PFG, 90-217 3PFG, 112-147 FT), 5.6 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 2.9 TOPG
Russell is a first team All-American, a future top-five NBA draft pick, and a former AAU teammate of Michael Gilmore. He’s a left-handed, 6-foot-5 point guard/shooting guard who stuffs the stat sheet like a modern, poor man’s Oscar Robertson. Here are a few of his best performances:
- **Northwestern:** 33 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 0 turnovers
- **Maryland:** 18 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 0 turnovers
- **Rutgers:** 23 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds, 2 turnovers
- **Iowa:** 27 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
Unlike many of the premier one-and-done players in college basketball, Russell’s draft stock isn’t built on physical assets or upside. He’s skilled and he’s skilled right now. He’s a crisp passer, his body control is borderline unreal, and if he gets any space, he’s attacking the rack for two points. He’s an elite 3-point shooter–especially from the left wing, where he’s shooting greater than 50%. VCU’s best plan is to make him uncomfortable with the full-court press and deny him the basketball in the half-court.
#3 Shannon Scott (PG, Senior) • There’s something scary about senior point guards in March. Scott has all of the tools to makes plays on both ends of the court en route to the Sweet 16.
#12 Sam Thompson (G, Senior) • He’s a freak athlete who was a perfect third piece alongside DeShaun Thomas and Aaron Craft as a sophomore, but he’s been perpetually one step away from his potential ever since.
#1 Jae’Sean Tate (F, Freshman) • He’s undersized at 6-foot-4, but he’s a high-motor rebounder and and defender, and he’s shooting 115 of 182 (.632) from 2-point range.
#23 Amir Williams (F, Senior) • He’s a 6-foot-11, 250-pound force, but his play is erratic. A disengaged Williams would be a blessing while an enthusiatic, shot-blocking, rebounding Williams would be a curse. His role is even more important because Temple-transfer Anthony Lee is out with an injury.
#2 Marc Loving (SF, Sophomore) • Loving shot 28 of 48 (.583) from 3-point range in the non-conference slate. He finished just 18 of 48 (.375) in conference play and is just 4 of 20 (.200) after missing three games to suspension. An end to his slump could spell trouble for VCU.
KenPom picks Ohio State to win 70-69 with a 56% chance of victory.
OHIO STATE PROFILE
- Location: Columbus, Ohio
- Enrollment: ~64,000
- Conference: Big Ten
- All-time Series 0-0
- Last Meeting N/A