For the sixth year in a row and for the first time under head coach Will Wade, VCU is heading to the NCAA tournament. The Rams dodged a selection minefield, avoiding the fate of other deserving teams like St. Bonaventure and Monmouth who were left out. Despite being placed in the West region, the 10 seeded Rams won’t have to travel across multiple time-zones like previous years and will play against 7th seeded Oregon State in Oklahoma City on Friday at 1:30pm (TNT).
The Beavers are led by Gary Payton, Jr. (the son of NBA legend Gary Payton) and have racked up multiple signature wins, including Oregon, Utah, and Cal, all of which are top 4 seeds in this year’s field. Despite the strong victories during the regular season, Wayne Tinkle’s group has struggled away from Corvalis, getting just one quality win away from home (Tulsa in Portland).
Payton, their anchor and senior leader, is masterful with the ball in his hands. He rarely plays out of control and has a knack for the open man, dishing out five assists a game for every 2.4 turnovers. He also is their leading scorer, and excels at getting to the basket and finishing. Like his father, he’s also a defensive menace. He ranks 15th in America in steal percentage. Payton’s counterpart and second leading scorer Tres Tinkle is reported to be doubtful for Friday’s affair. Expect freshman guard Stephen Thompson Jr. to step in and fill the scoring void, as he’s averaged 16 points per game since Tinkle’s injury.
So how can the Rams prevail and advance to the second round? VCU must defend the three, as Oregon State is one of the better shooting teams from long range in the Pac 12. Wade encourages defenders to leave their feet to try and block threes; expect him to reinforce this plan on Friday. VCU also needs to crash the boards, as Oregon State is one of the worst teams in the Division One at preventing offensive rebounds. Their bigs are efficient on the offensive end, but have been prone to getting out-muscled on the defensive end.
Should VCU prevail on Friday, they’d likely face certain national player of the year Buddy Hield and Oklahoma right around the corner from their campus. A victory on Sunday would be a monumental task, but let’s cross that bridge when it comes. For now, a solid opportunity for a first-round win awaits.