NCAA Tournament 2012: Why VCU Is a Lock to Advance to Sweet 16

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2012

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 15:  Head coach Shaka Smart of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams reacts in the second half while taking on the Wichita State Shockers in the second round of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Rose Garden Arena on March 15, 2012 in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The VCU Rams should book their plane tickets to Atlanta now, because they're going to the Sweet 16.

A win against the fifth-seeded Wichita State Shockers shouldn't have come as a huge surprise to college basketball fans.

The Rams did, after all, make the Final Four last year as an 11 seed.

In the second round they face off with Indiana, who dispatched New Mexico State, 79-66.

It's an intriguing matchup of one team, Indiana, which has historically been one of the better teams in college basketball, against another, VCU, who represents what could be the new vanguard of college basketball—one that is trying to show that the gap between the elite and mid-majors is closing.

The Hoosiers have had a good season, but one that could be described as up and down. They upset the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in Assembly Hall back in December. However, Indiana also has losses to Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa.

VCU finished with a slightly better record, but they didn't play in a conference anywhere near as tough as the Big Ten, in their toughest test of the regular season the Rams lost to Alabama on the road by eight.

However, the Rams have something the Hoosiers don't—experience.

This is the first NCAA Tournament Indiana has reached under Tom Crean. VCU's players already have a run to the national semifinals under their their belts.

They're also incredibly hot. Including the tournament, the Rams have won 18 of their last 19 games. Their only loss came to George Mason by one point.

VCU is playing with a certain amount of confidence that has been gained in this stellar run of games. With this tournament, it's all about getting hot at the right time and VCU is one of the hottest schools in the country.

Indiana might have a pretty good offense, but the Rams have an equally good defense.

They were ranked 18th in scoring defense and 12th in defensive efficiency. Expect VCU to really slow the game down and to stifle scorers Jordon Hulls and Christian Watford.

VCU is the kind of team that can give more talented squads headaches.

The Rams play good defense, and have plenty of experience playing together and in making a deep runs into the tournament.

It's these qualities that will earn them a potential matchup with the best team in the country, Kentucky, in the Sweet 16.