VCU will dance for the fifth consecutive year under head coach Shaka Smart and will play their third NCAA tournament game in Portland’s Moda Center in an NCAA tournament setting since 2012. VCU is 1-1 in that building, having upset the Wichita State Shockers in 2012 just before dropping a heart-breaker late to Indiana. That team featured freshmen versions of Treveon Graham, Briante Weber and Jarred Guest, three players looking to help VCU advance out of Portland and into the second weekend of tournament action for the first time in their VCU careers. In their way stands an Ohio State team led by future lottery pick, D’Angelo Russell. Russell and his Buckeye teammates come into tonight’s game as the favorite despite their lower seed, looking to bounce back from what has been a letdown season for OSU fans.
No.7 VCU (26-9)
No.10 OHIO STATE (23-10)
A QUICK LOOK AT OHIO STATE
Ohio State is one of the more interesting teams I’ve had an opportunity to look at this season in my game previewing. Statistically there isn’t much they are bad at, yet for some reason that hasn’t translated into the results Buckeyes fans had hoped for. OSU has been an efficient offense on the season, one that can really finish around the rim with the nation’s 12th-ranked shooting team inside the arc. Outside they are nearly as dangerous, hitting 37.2% of their attempts as a team to add up to an adjusted offensive efficiency that ranks 30th nationally. Defensively they have turned teams over almost as well as VCU while defending in the halfcourt even better than the Rams. However, for one reason or another, those pretty stats have yet to lead up to the good wins you look for, thus the 10-seed in this year’s tournament. Ohio State is 0-7 away from home against RPI top-50 teams, 3-8 overall away from home against the top-100. VCU is 3-2 against top-50 teams away from the Siegel Center and 8-3 overall against the top-100 outside of the Stu. The Buckeyes will hope star freshman D’Angelo Russell can help lead Ohio State to what would be their best neutral court win of the season against VCU. Just a freshman, Russell is a future NBA Lottery pick who leads the team with 19.3 points and a team-high 5.3 rebounds per game. The 6’5 combo guard who played his AAU ball with VCU freshman, Mike Gilmore, is also a deadly passer who is averaging 5.1 assists for Ohio State. That number is just behind leading assist man, Shannon Scott. Senior Scott and freshman Russell will be heavily leaned upon in tonight’s contest against VCU’s havoc D. Those two will be joined by a supporting cast that typically goes about 6-7 players deep. OSU will alternate between a lineup that consists of three 6’7-plus guys on the front line and one that includes 6’4 freshman, Jae’Sean Tate, but aren’t a particularly large team despite playing out of a very physical Big 10 conference.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
The narrative coming into this game is that VCU is a press-loving team who wins by turning you over and wearing you down. That actually wasn’t really the case in the Ram’s four-game A-10 tournament journey to the title. After wreaking a lil bit o’ havoc against Fordham (16 turnovers), the Rams forced just 10.6 turnovers per contest against the trio of Richmond, Davidson and Datyon, all of whom are really good at not turning it over, yet found ways to win anyway (VCU actually had more turnovers than their opponents in those games). How? Well, VCU out-rebounded all three and got a little offense in the process. VCU hit 32 of their 72 long balls over that stretch (44.4%), reminding the A-10 that despite the Rams’ recent shooting woes, this actually is a team quite capable of beating you with offense. VCU is a much better team as a confident team that isn’t passing up open looks from range, so don’t be surprised if the black and gold hope get the green light in tonight’s battle with Ohio State, a team that ranks 58th nationally in 3-point defense, which is actually worse than VCU’s last three opponents: Richmond (25th), Davidson (9th), and Dayton (52nd). Bombs away!
Scoring Offense: OSU 75.8, VCU 72.5
Scoring Defense: OSU 62.4, VCU 65.5
Effective Field Goal% Offense: OSU 54.5%, VCU 48.8%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: OSU 46.6%, VCU 49.3%
3-Point Field Goal%: OSU 37.2%, VCU 34.2%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: OSU 31.8%, VCU 34.4%
Rebounds per game: OSU 35.8, VCU 35.4
Turnover Percentage Defense: VCU 23.8%, OSU 22.1%
Turnover Percentage Offense: VCU 15.7%, OSU 17%
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: OSU 111.5, VCU 108.2
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: VCU 93.6, OSU 94.9
VCU WINS IF
When VCU is hitting threes like they have been they are damn hard to beat. Hit the deep ball, setup the press, wreak some havoc and force Ohio State to match you from range. While OSU is capable of hitting those shots, they do the majority of their scoring inside the arc, so VCU’s guards will need to deny the lanes and force OSU into the low-percentage attempts on a neutral court as a lower-seeded favorite. D’Angelo Russell is a heck of a talent, but he’s a freshman expected to lead his team to victory in a neutral court game in March. Russell has shot 28% from range over his last three contests and had one more turnover than assists while going 1-2 over that span. The pressure gets ratcheted up in March and VCU will hope to be the second A-10 team in as many years to hand the Buckeyes a second round L.
OHIO STATE WINS IF
Well, they are the favorite, so at this point they are expected to win. Unlike a lot of teams VCU plays, the Buckeyes love to run. Can they use VCU’s preferred tempo against them or does Shaka Smart spring another March trap on a BCS opponent? A beaten press yields easy buckets, so if the Buckeyes can render havoc useless while dominating in the halfcourt like they’ve shown the ability to do, VCU could be looking at their second knockout loss at the hands of a Big 10 team over the past three seasons. D’Angelo Russell is essentially playing for draft stock at this point and there are a ton of people who want to see him go off on the Rams. Russell was held to under 20 points in eight of Ohio States 10 losses and had sub-100 offensive ratings in six of those contests. As Russell goes, so does Ohio State, so it could be big night or bust for the Buckeyes and the freshman phenom.
Kenpom: 70-69 Ohio State win with a 45% chance of a VCU victory.
Game tips at 4:40PM EST at the Moda Center in Portland, OR.
Watch: TNT, Official watch parties at Baja Bean Co. in the Fan as well as Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation