One of the draws on the NCAA tournament is the love of the underdog. It wasn’t too long ago that the Cinderella story for most teams just meant surprising a first round opponent and getting a win. A few were able to get that second win and make it to the Sweet 16, but that is usually where the dream ended.
Over the past few years there has been growing the trend of Cinderella teams making a deeper run into the tournament. Since the tournament went to 64 teams in 1985, 11 double-digit seeds have made it to the Elite Eight. Of that 11 though, five have happened in the past nine years. In 2006, George Mason broke through and became the first double-digit seed since the 1987 LSU team to make it to the Final Four.
The matchup between Florida State and VCU, pits the tenth and eleventh seed against each other in a Sweet 16 matchup. This Battle of the Cinderellas, means that once again we will have at least one double digit seed making a trip to the Elite Eight this year.
Florida State enters the game after posting a 21-10 regular season record. While it may seem difficult to consider a team from a power conference as an underdog, FSU does fit the slipper. Long known for its football prowess, the Seminoles basketball team has never been that great.
This is only their fourth trip to the Sweet 16 in the school’s history. Their current three year stretch of even making the NCAA tournament matches the schools best run ever. Coach Leonard Hamilton has installed a defense-first style of play that the players have responded well too and has the tenth seeded Seminoles eyeing a spot in the Elite Eight.
Their 10 losses this season all came to teams with a winning record. Six of the losses came to teams that made the tournament with five joining them in the Sweet 16.
Chris Singleton is the player to watch for FSU, he leads the team in points and rebounds. He returned from a foot injury at the start of the tournament, but has been limited in the two games. The extra time off to heal and get into game shape will only help him return to his early season form. He will be needed if FSU has hopes of getting around VCU.
VCU has a good, but not spectacular, regular season as they finished 23-11. Their CAA championship game appearance is what earned them, what ended up being, a controversial at-large invite. In watching the various pundits talk about their inclusion into the tournament, they were blasted, slammed and embarrassed on national TV.
They were faced with comments such as:
“…they have not accomplished anything”
“This one fails the laugh test”
One analyst compared their entry to a beauty contest which pitted Roseanne Barr against Scarlett Johansson while another even questioned if the selection committee knew that the basketball was round.
Sitting through such attacks really seems to have really bolstered this team. They not only play with a chip on their shoulder, but a true us-against-the-world mentality. Too many athletes nowadays make false claims of being disrespected—VCU has a legitimate claim. Since the tournament began, only Ohio State and Kansas have been as impressive and dominant as VCU, and they were both playing much weaker opponents. They have used that as motivation in romps over USC, Georgetown and Purdue in which they have won by an average of 16-points.
FSU is a defense first team. They have Bernard James, who blocks 2.5 shot per game and possess a group of players who love going after rebounds. Their style also leads to a very physical game as they will punish you in the lane.
Their downfall throughout the season has been an offense that, at times, falls into a dead zone where they go long stretches without scoring. While the return of Singleton should help bring some better offensive consistency, the real driving force in their first two games has been the play of Derwin Kitchen, Michael Snaer and Deividas Dulkys. They have been able to hit three-point shots at a pace not seen in the regular season.
VCU is also a defense minded team and they love to press the ball which wears down their opponent. They have several players that have a knack for stealing the ball. The key to their game is how well they push that ball up the court after turnovers. When they are clicking on offense, they are able to force turnovers and quickly turn them into open and easy shots on the other end. This is a team that easily shares the ball and their ability to pass keeps the opposing defenses on their heels. They have four players who average double-digit points and five that get at least one steal a game.
Per game stats
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In the tournament, VCU has turned up their offense averaging four more points per game. Part of this is due to their jump in three point shooting, which is up six percent from the regular season. They have improved in every major category, except rebounding, during the tournament.
FSU on the other hand has seen their point total drop to 64 and their rebounds have fallen off as well. On the plus side their shooting percentage has improved and in the Notre Dame game they shot a scorching 47.4 percent from beyond the three point line. They have also blocked an amazing 9.5 shots per game in the tournament.
VCU will win this game. While Singleton will play, the press and wear of VCU’s defensive pressure will limit his effectiveness and put more pressure on the rest of the team. VCU can match FSU’s defense, which means it will fall on the offense to win the game. VCU guard Joey Rodriguez has played a tremendous tournament thus far, scoring 37-points and totalling 23 assist in three games. He will continue his great play and great ball stealing tendency while leading VCU to the Elite Eight.