7. VCU Rams (26-9, 12-6/A-10)–The Rams brushed off a late-season three game losing streak and the loss of senior leader Briante Weber, who tore his ACL and MCL on January 31, to win four straight games in Brooklyn and capture the Atlantic 10 tournament title.
Senior forward Treveon Graham was a big reason for the Rams’ run, as he stepped up his game in the absence of Weber, scoring 20 points and coming up with 13 rebounds in VCU’s title game win over Dayton. The Rams are still one of the nation’s best defensive teams, priding themselves on “Havoc” and making things tough on their opponent.
Luckily for Ohio State, the Buckeyes have one of the best point guards in the nation in freshman D’Angelo Russell. They’re going to need him in this game.
3rd Steals per game (9.7)
68th Blocks per game (4.3)
53rd Points per game (72.5)
10. Ohio State (23-10, 11-7/Big Ten)–Thank god for D’Angelo Russell.
Without the do-everything freshman guard and U.S. Basketball Writers’ First-Team All-American, the Buckeyes likely wouldn’t be in the NCAA Tournament. They may not even be in the NIT.
Russell averaged 19.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.6 steals per game this season, and virtually willed the Buckeyes to 23 wins. (Senior forward Sam Thompson did average 10.3 ppg). There weren’t a whole lot of signature victories, but Ohio State did beat Indiana and Maryland, and took care of business in games they needed to.
In this matchup with VCU, it’s all about how much Russell can do to will his team. The Rams aren’t easy on point guards, and the freshman, who did average 2.9 turnovers per game, could get rattled. Don’t bet on it, though.
24th Points per game (75.8)
24th Assists per game (15.4)
11th Field Goal Percentage (.486)
PREDICTION: Russell is a future lottery pick, and there’s no doubt that he’s the best player in this game. Still, take the Rams. VCU has more tournament experience, a defense it can rely on, and a coach that gets the most out of his guys come March. If they do advance, Round of 32 game against Arizona should be a ball, but don’t expect VCU to move on into the second weekend.