The VCU Rams have been called everything from this year’s “George Mason” to a “mistake” to the “Tournament Darlings”. The selection committee was berated by ESPN analysts, Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale after including VCU and University of Alabama at Birmingham into the field of 68.
The Rams have essentially silenced critics by winning their first three games by an average of 16 points. In the round of the first four, the Rams defeated the USC Trojans by 13 points and then went on to hammer, Georgetown and Purdue by 18 points each.
The Rams will now head down to San Antonio to face the Florida State Seminoles, who have been an afterthought in the ACC this season. Their biggest win was their tradition of defeating Duke in Tallahassee. This is the only match up in the sweet 16 that will pair two double digit seeded teams against each other, the first time a #10 and #11 will face off.
The Seminoles had a tall order to get to the sweet sixteen after defeating #2 seed Notre Dame, who was picked to go further than the 2nd round by most people’s bracket.
Florida State, not known for their offense, actually is one of the top teams in defensive efficiency. Teams average about 40% from the field against FSU. We’ll see if they can put a lid on VCU’s stellar tournament offense led by Senior Joey Rodriguez.
The Rams were able to confuse Purdue and Georgetown with their frantic style of play of full court pressure and pushing the ball. Purdue was one of the best defensive teams in the country but focused on a half court style of defense that Rams obliterated.
If the Rams want to advance onto the elite 8, they are going to have to stop FSU’s Bernard James. James, 26, a transfer from junior college after a tour of duty with the Air Force, is the most reliable player for the Seminoles and dropped 14 points against Notre Dame.
Aside from phenomenal play from Seniors, Jamie Skeen, Ed Nixon and Junior Bradford Burgess, of course, the Rams bench runs fairly deep. 6th man and local hero, Brandon Rozzell, dropped a high 26 points on Georgetown and the Rams also get a lot of guard help from Sophomore Darius Theus and Freshman, Rob Brandenberg.
The Rams are using all the negative comments as fuel for their fire to play with a level of motivation that hasn’t been seen this season. As if the Rams needed any additional motivation, an upset against FSU paired with a Richmond upset over #1 Kansas, would see an all Richmond regional final. The Rams lost to the Spiders earlier in the regular season.
Vegas (at the time this was written) has FSU favored by 4 points, which puts VCU as an underdog in the match up, a roll VCU has embraced whole heartedly.