(5) VCU vs. (12) Akron
(5) Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Two years removed from their surprising trip to the 2011 Final Four, the Rams (26-8, 12-4) are now representing the Atlantic-10 for the first time. They enter the tournament as the best team in the country at creating steals, tallying 11.9 a contest. Teams that struggle with turnovers and pressure hope to avoid the Rams at all costs because they will expose that weakness time and time again. As a team, they score 78 points a night, which ranked 11th during the regular season. Treveon Graham is their leading scorer with 15.7 a night, but Juvonte Reddic (14.5), Troy Daniels (12.2) and Rob Brandenberg (10.6) are right behind him. Reddic is also the team’s leading rebounder with 8.2 boards a night. The Rams were 3-1 against the RPI top 25, knocking off Memphis, Belmont and Butler. However they were 0-5 against teams in the RPI 26-50 range. They finished the regular season with the 26th ranked RPI while playing the 60th most difficult schedule. The Rams are looking to make it three straight years with a victory in the big dance and if they can get stops in the halfcourt when they need them, they’ll easily be able to achieve that feat and potentially even make some serious noise once again. Staying out of foul trouble is also a key for the Rams.
(12) Akron Zips
The Zips (26-6, 14-2) are back in the NCAA Tournament representing the Mid-American after a one year hiatus. This is their third appearance since 2009, after previously experiencing a 23 year drought without an appearance in the big dance. They looked like the class of the Mid-American throughout the regular season and proved it in the conference tournament by knocking off Kent State and Ohio. They enter the tournament with a top 50 RPI and a 1-2 mark against teams ranked in the same rage. Their best win came against Middle Tennessee. Overall their strength of schedule was ranked 131st. Their most notable slip ups came against Coastal Carolina, Buffalo and Kent State. Inside the paint the Zips have a big man in Zeke Marshall who gives them the necessary confidence to go in and potentially pull off an upset. He averaged 13 points, seven rebounds and nearly four blocks a game. He’s joined inside by Demetrius Treadwell, who is very serviceable himself as he contributes 11 points and just about eight rebounds a contest. As a team the Zips score 73 a night and allow 62. They surround their talented big men with capable shooters from three, but the Zips leave a lot of points at the free throw line as they shoot just 65 percent from the charity stripe. They have to have success from there and continued success from the three and inside the paint if they are going to win their first tournament game in school history. They will sorely miss their starting point guard Alex Abreu, who is out due to suspension.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: VCU. The Zips were looked at as a potential Cinderalla team, but they couldn’t have gotten a worse match up after losing their starting point guard than the Rams and their intense pressure.