PORTLAND, OREGON-The first ever meeting between VCU and Ohio State University will take place on a grand stage.
No. 7 VCU faces No. 10 Ohio State University at 4:40 p.m. on TNT, Thursday, March 19 in Portland, Oregon in the NCAA tournament.
VCU’s record-setting fifth straight NCAA tournament comes days after winning the Atlantic 10 Championship for the first time in Brooklyn. Alongside VCU, Ohio State is one of 11 schools to earn tournament berths in each of the last five years.
The trio of senior guard Treveon Graham, junior guard Melvin Johnson and redshirt-sophomore Mo Alie-Cox will lead the way.
Named the A-10 tournament’s Most Valuable Player, Graham averaged 17.3 points per game in the A-10 tournament. Graham said he and his team look to continue the success from the A-10 run into the NCAA.
“Come to the game and play the way we’ve been playing,” said Graham. “Play with confidence and playing for each other, in Brooklyn that’s what we did, we played for each other and kept fighting no matter what. Up here we got to do the same thing.”
Alie-Cox enters the tournament after an impressive showing in the Brooklyn, where he averaged 10.5 points per game on 62.5-percent shooting and 6.8 rebounds. Over the last 12 games, Alie-Cox is averaging 2.1 blocks.
“I think we just need to come out here and play our game,” said Alie-Cox.
Johnson shot the ball effectively en route to the A-10 crown, connecting on 14 3-pointers, third most in A-10 tournament history.
As a team, the Rams connected on 40 3-pointers, shooting 41.2 percent from behind the arc. The Rams averaged 10 three’s a game in four A-10 tournament games.
“We’re just going to go out and attack,” said Johnson.
OSU senior guard Shannon Scott understands one challenge will be to eliminate the three for VCU.
“In the halfcourt defense, we have to dock our guys. As soon as they catch the ball, we have to have a man there and try to stop that three-point shot from them,” said Scott.
Ohio State enters the NCAA coming off a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament on March 13. Still, OSU houses a sure first-round pick in the NBA draft in freshman guard D’Angelo Russell. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 19.3 ppg, 41.5 percent on 90-217 shooting from long range, 5.6 rebounds and places second on the team in assists (168) and steals (53).
Russell was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year after winning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors seven times this season. Russell was also named as an Oscar Robertson Trophy, Wayman Tisdale Award, Jerry West Award and Wooden Award finalist.
“Russell is as dynamic as a guard as there is in college basketball,” said head coach Shaka Smart. “He’s obviously going to the next level. But for right now, he’s one of the best in all of college basketball, not just at scoring, but at making plays for his teammates and the way he does it so efficiently. But I think their team’s a whole lot more than him.”
For his team to be successful, Smart said the team needs to be play with a certain level of freedom and confidence, attack on the offensive end and get off high quality shots.
“Ohio State has a very active defensive team,” said Smart. “They’ve got a lot of guys that can get their hands on the basketball. We’ve got to be strong and take care of it. We have to value it (and) make the extra pass. Then just being crisp in our execution.”
OSU head coach Thad Matta said he knows the challenge against VCU will first start with limiting their opportunities on both sides the floor.
“There’s not a lot of teams that play the way that they play in terms of defensive pressure, for 40 minutes, the pressing, the trapping” said Matta. “Offensively they’re going to spread you out (and) shoot a lot of threes.”
VCU would see the Rams face the winner of No. 2 University Of Arizona and No. 15 Texas Southern University.