One half of the Southwest Region’s Sweet 16 bracket features two of the most unlikely Sweet 16 teams imaginable.
On one line is Virginia Commonwealth University, a team that was so uneven during the regular season that they were nothing more than a “First Four” team in this year’s tournament. Yet, despite the outrage over their selection, VCU stays standing.
Florida State garnered a 10 seed despite suffering a late season injury to their best player. Undeterred, the Seminoles have followed the lead of the nation’s best defense to the Tournament’s second weekend.
Who will win? The Sports Muse analyzes.
Sweet 16: VCU v Florida State Game Info:
- Date: Friday, March 25th
- Tip Time: 9:57 ET
- TV: TBS
- Announcers: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr
- Location and Arena: San Antonio, TX at Alamo Dome
- Point Spread: FSU -4
- Over-Under: 131
Legend has it that in December of 1981, the phone rang in the home of Jay Bilas’ parents. The caller, an assistant with one of the schools recruiting their son, asked if Mrs. Bilas, from California, had heard of Appalachian State? When Mrs. Bilas responded “no”, the caller said “Well, they beat Duke last night.”
Nobody would be surprised if a similar call were made on January 3rd, 2011, when Florida State lost to Auburn, a team ranked 215th by Ken Pomeroy (Appalachian St. finished 209th this year in case you were wondering!!).
The difference between the two situations is that Duke was awful that year. They were 10-17 and Bilas’ class later helped resurrect a once proud program. The Auburn game for FSU clearly seems to be an anomaly. This team has been strong and getting stronger, and is playing its best ball of the season as it fights to keep those Cinderella slippers firmly planted.
Despite playing well for the last few weeks without him, getting Chris Singleton back for the Tourney has been the straw to stir the Seminoles’ drink. This team relies on stifling (really, this is not just hyperbole) defense to claw out hard fought, physical battles, and after dispatching of a finesse team in Notre Dame, survives and continues to dream of a magical run to the Final 4.
And not everyone should be completely surprised by the Seminole run. As I said in my ACC review on 1/27, other than Duke and UNC, “the other team most likely to make a dent in March is Florida State, who plays hard nosed defense and half court offense that is a strong formula for winning in the tournament.”
Trivia: Who is Dr. Richard L. Sander? Hint: He knows how to identify strong basketball leaders.
Sander is the outgoing AD at Virginia Commonwealth who has been responsible for hiring, in rapid fire succession, Jeff Capel, Anthony Grant, and now Shaka Smart as VCU’s last three head basketball coaches. That should get him invited to the hoops-savvy AD convention along with the guys from Xavier, Butler, and Tulsa (don’t forget they had Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith, and Bill Self).
Smart is a master motivator that turned down three Ivy League schools to attend Kenyon College. After losing four of their last five down the stretch in the regular season in the underrated Colonial Athletic Conference, they avenged two of those losses in the conference tourney before losing in the final and squeaking out one of the final at-large bids. The controversy around their selection was huge, as all of the ESPN experts bashed the choice of the Rams. All they did in response was win three games in five days against USC, Georgetown, and Purdue, all in double digit fashion.
So who gets to keep dancing when the clock strikes midnight this Friday?
Well, at least neither of these teams has to do what #1 overall seed Ohio State might and beat the four winningest programs in NCAA basketball history (Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, and Duke) to cut down the nets in Houston! [Editor's note: after last night's Duke loss, the Buckeyes no longer have to worry about this.]
Both teams are going to struggle scoring the ball. Don’t let VCU’s 94-point outburst against Purdue’s normally staunch defense fool you. The fact of the matter is that even that offensive explosion barely got VCU into the top 100 (#99) in points per game at about 71 per game. When you combine that with Florida State’s sensational defense, #2 in the country in points per possession, combined with being the 13th best rebounding in the country, it is going to be a challenge for VCU to score the basketball.
Florida State does not figure to have a much easier time of it. They average only 69 points per game and are not ranked in the top 200 in offensive efficiency. So despite VCU’s relatively poor defense which is average on its best day, FSU does not have the scoring prowess to be able to take full advantage.
VCU is led by a feisty point guard in Joey Rodriguez and a nice balanced offense, led by a 1-2 scoring punch of Jamie Skeen and Brad Burgess. Skeen should be familiar to Florida State and vice versa as he played his first two years at Wake Forest (averaging about 20 minutes per game) before transferring up to his new home in Richmond.
FSU is led by Chris Singleton, a defensive stud and team leader who also fills it up to the tune of 14 points and 7 boards a night. But they have a nice cohesive group of complimentary players led by Derwin Kitchen and Deividas Dulkeys. It is a testament to the brand of team ball that this group plays that they played very competitive basketball when they lost Singleton, their heart and soul and leading scorer and rebounder, for six games down the stretch.
The big advantage that VCU has is that they tend to take care of the ball much better than the Seminoles. FSU turns the ball over on a whopping 5% more of its possessions (19% to 14%) than the Rams.
Florida State should neutralize that advantage with one of their own on the glass.
I consider coaching to be a wash. I think Shaka Smart is a savvy young coach who has done a nice job, but is still relatively inexperienced as a head man. Leonard Hamilton teaches good defense but is a mediocre strategist, but he has loads of experience at both the college and NBA levels.
At the end of the day, at the risk of sounding like a cliché, I think you have to look at the individual matchups. The one guy on the court, if he is playing well and can stay out of foul trouble, that should be the difference maker is Chris Singleton. He is the only legitimate NBA prospect on the floor in this one, and he can put the Seminoles on his shoulders in crunch time to make the one play to put his team on his back.
- Florida State-VCU Prediction: Florida State 65 – VCU 61
- Florida State-VCU Spread Pick: Push (VCU +4)
- Florida State-VCU Over-Under Pick: Under
Something interesting to think about: Wouldn’t it be interesting if, after the game, Smart and Jeff Capel switched gigs, with Smart backfilling Capel at Oklahoma and Capel getting his old job back in Richmond.
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