Fresh off their first Atlantic 10 Tournament title VCU will look to keep so momentum going and wash the taste of last year's loss against Stephen F. Austin out of their mouth with a tough match against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Thursday's contest in Portland will be the first contest between these two schools and ironically enough the SFA Lumberjacks will also be in the building for their evening match up with Utah.
VCU got through Fordham, Richmond, Davidson, and Dayton in-route to their title in Brooklyn and it looked like the first time this year that Shaka Smart was willing to adapt his style without the presence of Briante Weber on the court. At the very least it will be interesting to see if VCU comes out in their traditional HAVOC style against Thad Matta's Buckeyes or opts for more of a halfcourt look, like we saw Sunday against Dayton.
HAVOC may not be the primary option for VCU as Ohio State has a slew of guards who should be able handle pressure despite their relative use. Obviously super frosh D'Angelo Russell leads the way after averaging over 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists this season. The future lottery pick should be a tough match up for VCU and it'll be interesting to see how the Rams defend him on one-on-one situations. Shannon Scott and Kam Williams will also play key roles when fighting against the Rams' diamond press.
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The biggest key to victory for VCU is that they have to carry over some hot shooting from Brooklyn. We all know how solid Graham is on both sides of the court for VCU but the Rams need Melvin Johnson, JaQuan Lewis, Jordan Burgess, and the aforementioned Larrier firing on all cylinders from beyond the arc. If VCU struggles shooting, like they did for a great portion of February, then you can pencil in the Buckeyes moving on.
VCU also needs to keep their composure on the offensive end of the floor. Lewis is about experienced as it gets for a sophomore point guard but you have to think he's trying to exorcise some demons from last March. Beyond Lewis the Rams ball-handlers are relatively inexperienced between Jonathan Williams and Doug Brooks. You're never quite sure how young players are going to do when their thrown in the pressure cooker that is the NCAA Tournament, especially so far from Richmond, Virginia.
Thursday's match up should be as about as tight as it gets and a fun watch for everyone. Flip a coin if you want a winner in your office pool. For now I'll take Ohio State 68-63 to move on and face #2 Arizona in the Round of 32.