The Rams of VCU enter this year’s NCAA Tournament as one of the most dangerous 12 seeds in recent memory. After winning the A10 tournament convincingly, the Rams now take on the runner-ups in the WCC in St. Mary’s today at 2:00 PM EST. We’ll preview the game before going over which side I’ll be backing in this one.
Every year on Selection Sunday, when the bracket is released, there are always a few matchups that stand out as incredible matchups, and this VCU and St. Mary’s game is one of those matchups for me. Two of the best mid-major teams in the country in the first round is wildly entertaining, especially with how well both sides were playing heading into today.
Yes, the Gaels did lose by 26 in the WCC Championship game, but they were still 7-3 over their last ten games and have four players in their starting lineup averaging in double figures. St. Mary’s is currently 40th in the country in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and ranks 42nd in the nation in three-point percentage. Their true strength as a team, however, is defense.
St. Mary’s is 10th in defensive efficiency on KenPom and fourth in the country in average points allowed per game at 60. Arguably one of the most impressive aspects of this Gaels' defense is that they held opponents to an average of just 7.8 assists per game this season. The Gaels aren’t the only strong defense in this matchup, though, as VCU is 17th in defensive efficiency on KenPom, marking the only first-round game that has two teams ranked inside the top 20 in defensive efficiency.
VCU went 9-1 over their last ten games of the season, and in that span, they only allowed one team to score more than 68 points. The Rams held opponents to an average effective field goal percentage of 47% this season, ranking them 31st in that category and a big reason why they are 26th in the country in average score margin.
The VCU Rams can currently be found as (+4.5) point underdogs, and I’ll be backing them for my play in this one. Over their last ten games, the Rams went 7-3 ATS, while the Gaels were 4-6 ATS in that same span. Historically, VCU has also been a very profitable team to back in the NCAA Tournament, as they are 16-5 ATS in their last 21 tournament games.
Offensively, the Rams rank well behind the Gaels in offensive efficiency on KenPom; however, their offense seemed to have found something at the end of the season. Over their last ten games, VCU scored 68 or more points in eight of those games, and leading scorer Ace Baldwin Jr. will come into today off a 16-point performance in the A10 Championship game.
In a game that will likely be a defensive battle, the Rams hold a crucial advantage in one offensive area, which is free throw shooting. VCU gets to the free throw line an average of 22.4 per game which is the 22nd most in the country, and 4.9 more attempts than St. Mary’s. I think this game will be close from start to finish, and the Rams can do enough offensively to keep them in a game where possessions will be hard to come by.
VCU Rams (+4.5)