Virginia Commonwealth and Akron will fight for their tournament lives in one of the upset specials, otherwise known as a No. 5 vs. No. 12 battle in the NCAA tournament.
Admittedly, this five vs. 12 battle has a bit of a different feel. After all, VCU is the kind of small school we usually find in the role of the 12 seed.
However, after their run to the Final Four as an 11 seed and advancing to the round of 32 last year, the Rams have raised their profile and won't be sneaking up on anyone.
The Rams finished the regular season with a 26-8 record. They made it to the finals of the Atlantic 10 tournament before falling to an outstanding Saint Louis team, 62-56.
Meanwhile, Akron won the MAC tournament and finished the regular season 26-6. This is the second time in the last three years that the Zips have made the tournament, but just the fourth time overall. They have yet to advance past the first round.
The Zips, while posting an outstanding regular season, do not have a win against a top-25 team.
These two are battling in the South bracket with the winner advancing to take on the winner of the No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 South Dakota State game.
Where: Auburn Hills, Michigan
When: Thursday, March 21, at 9:45 p.m. ET
Live Stream: March Madness On Demand
Betting Line: VCU -7 according to Vegas Insider on March 18
VCU Injuries (via USA Today): F Mo Alie-Cox, Eligibility, Out; G Jordan Burgess, Eligibility, Out
Akron Injuries (via USA Today): G Alex Abreu, Suspension, Out Indefinitely
What's at Stake?
This is the NCAA tournament. I think we all know what's at stake here: a chance to advance!
For VCU, this is a chance for head coach Shaka Smart to continue to build on the amazing success he has found with the Rams.
As for the Zips, this is a golden opportunity to take the program to new heights. It is impressive that this team is back in the tournament after appearing in 2011, but it is time for this program to take the next step and advance past the first round.
Players to Watch
VCU: F Juvonte Reddic
Junior forward Juvonte Reddic has been outstanding this season. He is second on the Rams in points at 14.4 per contest.
He also leads them in rebounds (8.3), blocks (0.9) and field goal percentage (56.1).
Reddic is a nice inside presence. The kind a team can lean on in the tournament to help prevent prolonged stretches of ineffectiveness.
Akron: C Zeke Marshall
At 7'0", senior center Zeke Marshall has a big inside presence. He is an adept shot-blocker who averages 3.7 blocks per game. He also hauls in 7.1 rebounds per game.
Marshall certainly isn't only a presence on the defensive end. He is the Zips' leading scorer at 13.0 points per game, and he tallied that mark with a 65.4 field goal percentage.
Key Matchup: Akron's Ball Handling vs. VCU Defense
Akron needs to make taking care of the rock a top priority in this game, and if the Zips don't have some success in that regard, they are in for a long night.
Akron is 214th in the nation at 13.7 turnovers per game. That's not a good stat for any matchup, but particularly this one.
The Rams are first in the nation in forcing opposition turnovers at a whopping 19.9 per game.
If the Rams can consistently force Akron into turnovers, they will create easy buckets and steal the will to win from the Zips.
Prediction: VCU 74, Akron 62
VCU is going to wear Akron down. This game may be close at the end of the first half, but the Rams' defense will prove to be too much.
The Rams have plenty of tournament experience, a sound team, a great coach and they are ready to once again advance past the first round, and have a legitimate shot of going beyond that.
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