HAVOC Haven: VCU vs. Oklahoma NCAA Tournament preview

(PHOTO GALLERY: Capital News Service)

“We have a tough challenge, and we’ll have to play well to have a chance to win.” — Oklahoma Head Coach Lon Kruger

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — At 5:15 p.m. Sunday, the 10th-seeded VCU Rams (25-10) will tip off against the 2nd-seeded Oklahoma Sooners (26-7) in a Round of 32 match in the West Region of the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament from the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. The Sooners are a 7-point favorite (over/under is 147) and will clearly have a home court advantage due to the fact that Norman is a suburb of OKC.

The series between the two teams is even at two apiece but this game has much higher stakes.

According to Cliff Brunt of the Associated Press, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said his team sees Virginia Commonwealth simply as a good team heading into their second-round NCAA Tournament matchup on Sunday.

The Rams aren’t in a Power Five conference — they play in the Atlantic 10. And VCU was one of a record 10 double-digit seeds that won in the opening round — the 10th-seeded Rams knocked off seventh-seeded Oregon State to advance in the West Region.

But No. 2 seed Oklahoma (26-7) also is aware that VCU is not a typical double-digit seed. The Rams (25-10) went to the Final Four in 2011 and are in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight year. The Sooners will try to avoid the upset and reach the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.

VCU's offense stalls in A-10 Tournament loss. (PHOTO CREDIT: Brooke Marsh/Capital News Service)
VCU’s offense stalls in A-10 Tournament loss. (PHOTO CREDIT: Brooke Marsh/Capital News Service)

“This is when we’ve done good work in the past, and we need to show up and put our best foot forward.” VCU Head Coach Will Wade.

“The tape we’ve seen so far on them, that our guys have seen — it gets their attention pretty easily,” Kruger said. “They know we have a tough challenge, and we’ll have to play well to have a chance to win tomorrow.”

Still, Kruger made sure his team was aware of how the first round went for the big boys.

“Anytime you can be here today is a good start,” Kruger said. “Tournament games are hard to win, as evidenced by the last couple days. A lot of good teams aren’t playing today, and I told our guys that — to appreciate the opportunity and not take anything for granted and enjoy it.”

First-year VCU coach Will Wade said his team doesn’t view itself as an underdog, (despite what this article claims) but the Rams will play loose.

“This is when we’ve done good work in the past, and we need to show up and put our best foot forward,” Wade said.

Although Wade’s comments sound a bit casual, 8News’ Mitch Carr reports that VCU must contain the Sooners x-factor — Buddy Hield. Will Wade, VCU’s head coach, says Hield is the best guard the team will face this season. The players already have plans on how to handle Hield on the court.

VCU guard Korey Billbury already knows what to expect since he played against Hield at Oral Roberts.

POLL: Will VCU beat Oregon State?

“He’s a gifted scorer,” Billbury said. “He scores on all three levels. If you run him off the three-point line he pulls up. If you take the pull up away he can get to the cup. He’s a 90 percent free throw shooter. He’s just a very gifted scorer. He plays the passing lanes on defense so he can get steals. He’s a guy that you know he’s going to get his shots up. It’s just about containing him and making every shot he takes the toughest shot.”

Billbury’s teammate, Jordan Burgess, VCU guard, says Hield is a talented player but, he is ready for the game.

“He’s a talented offensive player but as a competitive basketball player, you like to have challenges like that, especially if you like to play defense like I do,“ Burgess said. “So if I do get the chance to guard him I’ll be ready for the challenge.”

Tale of the tape:

The Rams “upset” the 7th-seeded Oregon State Beavers on Friday, 75-67. JeQuan Lewis (21 points) and Mo Alie-Cox (20) had stellar performances, but the Rams continue to struggle to shoot the ball, especially behind the arc.

VCU finished in a three-way tie for the regular season title in the A-10 with Dayton and St. Bonaventure and lost in the tournament finals to the fourth-seeded Saint Joseph’s Hawks last Sunday.

(PHOTO GALLERY: Capital News Service)
(PHOTO GALLERY: Capital News Service)

Prior to last week’s A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn, many bracket experts had VCU, 14-4 in A-10 play, on the dreaded tournament bubble, but convincing wins against Davidson and UMass in the conference tournament paved VCU’s way to an at-large bid.

VCU and its new Head Coach Will Wade had quite a mountain to climb early in their season. While many teams are playing squads that would lose to a community college team, VCU faced (and lost to) the likes of Duke, Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Cincinnati.

One train of thought was that this would build character and prepare the team for a long post-season run. And, it looked like a good plan — after starting the season 5-5, the Rams reeled off 12 straight wins including nine straight A-10 wins.

VCU finished the season going 5-4, falling into a three-way tie with St. Bonaventure (22-7, 14-4) and Dayton (24-6, 14-4). Two of those losses came from lowly George Mason (11-21, 5-13) and A-10 bottom dweller UMass (14-17, 6-12).

Number 10 Seed: The VCU Rams (Richmond, Va.)*

  • Record: 25-10 overall, 14-4 in A-10
  • Coach: Will Wade (62-34)
  • Top Scorers: Melvin Johnson (17.4 ppg), Korey Billbury (11.4 ppg)
  • Top Rebounder: Justin Tillman (6.3 rpg)
  • Top shot blocker: Mo Alie-Cox (1.9 blocks per game)
  • Points Per Game: 77.3
  • Points Allowed Per Game: 66.7
  • Margin: 10.6
  • Free Throw Percentage: .694
  • Field Goal Percentage: .452
  • Opp. FG Pct..439
  • 3-Point FG Percentage: .352
  • 3-Pt. FG-Game: 7.2
  • Opp. 3-Pt. FG Pct.: .339
  • Opp. 3-Pt. FG-Game: 5.5
  • Rebounding: 40.6
  • Rebound Margin: 2.8
  • Turnovers: 11.5
  • TO Diff.: 3.7
  • Avg Steals: 8.6
  • Avg Blocks: 3.8

VCU finished the season going 5-4, falling into a three-way tie with St. Bonaventure (22-7, 14-4) and Dayton (24-6, 14-4). Two of those losses came from lowly George Mason (11-21, 5-13) and A-10 bottom dweller UMass (14-17, 6-12).

Roster: The VCU Rams*

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr.
1 JeQuan Lewis Guard 6-1 180 Jr.
2 Samir Doughty Guard 6-4 180 Fr.
4 Justin Tillman Forward 6-7 215 So.
5 Doug Brooks Guard 6-4 195 Jr.
10 Jonathan Williams Guard 6-1 185 So.
11 Michael Gilmore Forward 6-10 215 So.
12 Mo Alie-Cox Forward 6-7 250 R-Jr.
14 Torey Burston Guard 5-8 180 R-Jr.
20 Jordan Burgess Guard 6-5 225 R-Jr.
22 Gerron Scissum Forward 6-7 210 Fr.
23 Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed Forward 6-9 230 Jr.
24 Korey Billbury Guard 6-4 210 Sr.
32 Melvin Johnson Guard 6-4 190 Sr.
33 Jonathan Nwankwo Forward 6-9 245 Fr.
35 Jordan Riullano Guard 5-9 185 Fr.

The team’s unquestioned leader is senior Melvin Johnson — when he is on his game (sinking three-pointers) the Rams are tough to stop, especially when Korey Billbury and Mo Alie-Cox are also clicking.

Sophomore Justin Tillman, junior Jonathan Williams, newcomer Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed, and JeQuan Lewis were all contributors this season. But the Rams’ two weaknesses this year seemed to be consistency and playing defensively sound.

Number 2 Seed: The Oklahoma Sooners (Norman, Okla.)*

  • Record: 26-7 overall, 12-6 in Big 12
  • Coach: Lon Kruger (587-360)
  • Top Scorers: Buddy Hield (25 ppg), Isaiah Cousins (13.1 ppg)
  • Top Rebounder: Ryan Spangler (9.3 rpg)
  • Top shot blocker: Khadeem Lattin (2.2 blocks per game)
  • Points Per Game: 80.4
  • Points Allowed Per Game: 70.4
  • Margin: 10
  • Free Throw Percentage: .723
  • Field Goal Percentage: .460
  • Opp. FG Pct..406
  • 3-Point FG Percentage: .429
  • 3-Pt. FG-Game: 10.5
  • Opp. 3-Pt. FG Pct.: .339
  • Opp. 3-Pt. FG-Game: 7.5
  • Rebounding: 41.3
  • Rebound Margin: 1.4
  • Turnovers: 12.9
  • TO Diff.: .1
  • Avg Steals: 6.9
  • Avg Blocks: 5.3

Oklahoma’s resume looks pretty strong this season: Eight top 25 wins, 19 weeks in the AP’s Top Ten, and three weeks at No. 1 in the AP Poll. Currently, the Sooners are ranked No. 7 in the country. They finished third in the Big 12, losing to West Virginia in their conference tournament.

On Friday, they took out the CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners, 82-68.

This squad goes through Naismith Award finalist Hield, who averages 25 points a game and has hit 280 3-balls this year. The game plan for the rams should be simple — stop Hield.

Roster: The Oklahoma Sooners*

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr.
00 Ryan Spangler Forward 6-8 234 Sr.
1 Rashard Odomes Guard 6-6 200 Fr.
2 Dinjiyl Walker Guard 6-1 203 Sr.
3 Christian James Guard 6-4 218 Fr.
4 Jamuni McNeace Center 6-10 215 R-Fr.
41 Austin Mankin Forward 6-7 210 Sr.
10 Jordan Woodard Guard 6-0 187 Jr.
11 Isaiah Cousins Guard 6-4 200 Sr.
12 Khadeem Lattin Forward 6-9 208 So.
14 Bola Alade Guard 6-4 193 R-Fr.
21 Dante Buford Forward 6-7 221 R-Fr.
22 Daniel Harper Guard 6-1 190 Jr.
24 Buddy Hield Guard 6-4 214 Sr.
25 C.J. Cole Forward 6-7 245 Sr.
30 Akolda Manyang Center 6-7 243 Jr.

*Editor’s note: Stats courtesy of ESPN, FOX Sports, VCU Athletics, Oklahoma University Athletics, and the Associated Press.

The Associated Press, Cliff Brunt, and Mitch Carr contributed to this report.

HAVOC HAVEN will be live blogging from Social 52 in Richmond’s Fan District.Stop by and say hi.

8Sports Director Mitch Carr is in Oklahoma City and will be following the Rams during their run in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. Follow him on Twitter and look for highlights and reaction from Sunday’s game on 8News at 6 and 11.

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