What to expect: #5 VCU in unfamiliar position against familiar #12 Akron
5th-seeded VCU faces 12th-seeded Akron in the second round of the NCAA tournament Thursday night.
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- What: VCU (26-8, 12-4) vs. Akron (26-6, 14-2)
- Where: The Palace at Auburn Hills
- When: Thursday, March 21st at 9:45 PM
- Watch: CBS
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5th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth University faces 12th-seeded Akron in the second round of the NCAA tournament Thursday night.
The Rams are dancing for the third consecutive season, but VCU, a program that has made a name for themselves as an underdog, finds themselves in the unfamiliar position of being a higher seed for the first time since 1985.
While the seeding is unfamiliar, the opponent is familiar. Coach Shaka Smart served as an assistant under Akron head coach Keith Dambrot from 2004-2006. When Alex Abreu was suspended two weeks ago, Smart sent a 45-second video to the Akron players at the request of Dambrot. Smart has coached against Akron twice, the first time was a win in the ESPN Bracketbuster in 2010. Last season, the Rams travelled to Akron and Darius Theus hit a game winning layup with one second remaining in overtime to seize a 76-75 victory.
- From December 18th to February 27th, Akron won 19 consecutive games, the longest winning streak in the nation all season.
- Akron plays five players that are 6-foot-7 or taller for 11.5+mpg.
- Without Alex Abreu, Akron turns over the ball on 22.1% of possessions which would rank 285th nationally for a season.
- After trailing 25-14, Akron outscored MAC favorite Ohio 51-19 the rest of the way en route to a MAC conference tournament championship.
- Without Abreu, Akron is averaging 14.5 turnovers per game. VCU is 26-1 when forcing 15+ turnovers.
Akron is a long, experienced team with good coaching, solid bench players, and plenty of wins.
They are excellent on the defensive end. They rank 17th in defensive effective field goal percentage and 13th in block percentage because of their length and discipline. If VCU struggles to make shots, they won’t be able to set up the press which could limit the Ram’s opportunities to force turnovers.
Offensively, the Zips move the scoreboard with 2-pointers. They rank 25th nationally in 2-point field goal percentage. A huge area of concern for VCU has to be rebounding. Akron ranks 20th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. The Zips have the size to absolutely punish VCU on the glass while scoring a dangerous amount of second chance points.
Akron was an OK 3-point shooting team with Abreu, now they really struggle from downtown. More importantly, their best 3-point shooters are not their best defenders, so they have to make sacrifices with personal depending upon their needs.
The Zips turn over the ball on 20.4% of possessions (202nd), and the ball is stolen on 10.3% of possessions (219th). VCU could attempt 15+ more shots than Akron, but HAVOC! comes at a price. The Rams have been whistle magnets over the past few weeks which should be a concern on Thursday, but Akron could struggle to capitalize. They shoot an awful 64.3% (311th) from the charity stripe.
On March 7th, junior point guard Alex Abreu was arrested for trafficking in and possession of marijuana. Akron immediately suspended him after he was charged after detectives seized nearly five pounds of marijuana from the residence of Abreu acquaintance Austin Durgala.
Abreu was the team’s only true point guard and he finishes the season averaging 10.2ppg, 5.9apg, 2.5rpg, and 1.1spg. He led the team with 50 3-point field goals, and he was an invaluable leader.
The Star: #44 Zeke Marshall (C, Senior)
13ppg on 65.4% shooting, 7.1rpg, 3.7bpg
Zeke Marshall is one of the premier mid-major big men in college basketball. A true 7-footer, he uses his 7-foot-5 wingspan to absolutely dominate around the rim. He ranks third nationally in blocks with 118 and he had six against VCU in 2011. Offensively he ranks fifth nationally in shooting percentage. Most of his shots come from around the rim, but he is a surprising 2-of-3 from 3-point range this season.
Juvonte Reddic gives up three inches, but he has the weight to defend the much skinnier Marshall. Reddic has faced some big time big men in the NCAA Tournament including Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic), JuJuan Johnson (Boston Celtics), Garrett Stutz, and Cody Zeller. VCU will defend by committee, but Reddic has the skills to avoid foul trouble and play with Marshall.
#12 Carmelo Betancourt (PG, Freshman) • Freshman. Point guard. Betancourt has been tasked with replacing Abreu, but the results have been mixed. He turns the ball over on 46.5% of possessions against normal defenders. Briante Weber and Darius Theus are far from normal defenders.
#2 Brian Walsh (SG, Junior) • Walsh is an important on-ball defender and 3-point shooter for the Zips. More of a catch and shoot scorer, VCU will try to force Walsh to handle the ball more than he wants. That could make him uncomfortable and less efficient than usual.
#23 Chauncey Gilliam (SF, Senior) • Gillium must be doing something right. After barely playing the month of February, he has joined the starting lineup, and he is playing serious minutes. He has a 30-pound advantage on Troy Daniels and a 50-pound advantage on Rob Brandenberg. It is imperative that they avoid foul trouble despite being totally outmuscled.
#1 Demetrius Treadwell (F, Junior) • Nicknamed “Tree,” Treadwell is the Zip’s 2nd leading scorer and leading rebounder. At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, his battle with Treveon Graham will be something to watch.
#10 Nick Harney (F, Junior) • Harney is one of the Zip’s best athletes. He is a 6-foot-7 glue guy that can do a little bit of everything. When Betancourt heads to the bench, Harney is the main ball handler for the Zips.
#15 Jake Kretzker (SF, Freshman) • Kretzker is the Zip’s best remaining 3-point shooter. He is 46-134 on the season from range. He sometimes plays a limited role, but he has big game potential. He was a perfect 5-5 from 3-point range against Ohio in February.
Akron has had an excellent season, but the loss of Alex Abreu is a crippling blow made worse by the Zip’s second round matchup with HAVOC!. This is the most favorable NCAA Tournament matchup for VCU since 1985, and the Rams should advance. KenPom picks VCU to win 71-67 with a 66% chance of victory.
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- Location: Akron, OH
- Enrollment: ~29,000
- Conference: MAC
- All time series: VCU leads 6-0.
- Last meeting:12/29/11. VCU won 76-75 OT.
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