Matchup: #2 Oklahoma (26-7) vs. #10 VCU (25-10)
When: 5:15 p.m. Sunday
Where: Chesapeake, Bay Arena – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
How it happened:
VCU ended its first-round elimination streak of the NCAA tournament in a 75-67 victory against Oregon State on Friday night in Oklahoma City.
Led by junior guard JeQuan Lewis who cashed in 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, the Rams are set to play number two seed Oklahoma University on Sunday.
“I just wanted to push the pace and get us going early,” Lewis said. “(Melvin Johnson) opened up a lot of things for me, because later on in the second half they started sprinting back and that’s what opened up the three.”
The big three Lewis referred to was the game sealer that put VCU ahead 52-51 late in the game, after a 10-0 run by OSU allowed the Beavers to take back the lead. Johnson’s only-made three of the game couldn’t have come at a better time, but the Queens, New York native said he understands the daunting task of the game tomorrow evening will have more on the line.
“We’re up for it, we’re excited,” Johnson said. “It’s Oklahoma, we expect to be the underdogs but we will compete at the highest level, we expect to win at all times.”
Oklahoma defeated CSU Bakersfield 82-68, in a win that saw the star of the tournament score 27 points. Buddy Hield, the name VCU fans will here for the next 24 hours, sealed the win for the Sooners with two key 3-pointers towards the end of the contest.
Hield, the Big-12 Player of the Year will be the toughest player the Rams have faced all season. The heralded guard from the Bahamas bolsters eye-popping numbers including a 50 point game on his resume and an average of 25 pointer per game for the season.
“He will be the best guard we play this year,” said head coach Will Wade. “He’s phenomenal, he’s got such an advanced understanding of the game that if we make one wrong move it will be an open shot for him.”
Not only will VCU have to compete against Hield, but the Oklahoma fans traveled in herds to come see their Sooners in yesterday’s contest. OU is 18 miles down the road from the Chesapeake Bay Arena, so VCU can expect a ruckus crowd that will resemble a home game for Oklahoma.
“We’ve been a good road team and we’ll need to draw on that experience,” Wade said. “But it will definitely be a big challenge for us.”
Wade also referenced OU’s ability to shoot lights out from deep and VCU’s inability to do the same lately. The Sooners connect on around 10.5 threes per contest and shoot around 42 percent as a team.
“I thought with Bakersfield they barraged them with two quick runs, one in the first half and one in the second, that gave them the lead they needed,” Wade said. “We need to keep it manageable and not let them bury back-to-back threes or consecutive threes.”
Matchup to Watch:
It would be easy to say the matchup to watch would be Buddy Hield against the entire VCU defense. But the real tell-all for the game will come from the production of Mo Alie-Cox and Ahmed Hamdy against the frontcourt of OU featuring Khadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler.
Bottom line, Buddy is going to get his because he is just that good. VCU can look at stopping one of the best frontcourts in the Big-12 to find themselves dancing in the Sweet 16. Lattin and Spangler combine to average 16 points per game, similar to the average of Alie-Cox and Hamdy with 15.
If Hamdy can come in and provide the energy the team has thrived on this postseason, VCU can earn the much-needed second chance scoring opportunities warranted against a team like OU.
“I just try to bring energy to the team,” Hamdy said. “Attacking the glass is what I do best, (my teammates) told me as soon as I get the ball to look to attack because I can score, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”
I’m not a fan of making predictions, because as you can see with every bracket in America, we all suck at it. But I do see VCU surprising a lot, and upsetting many that has OU penciled in to go to the Final Four.
VCU has a golden opportunity to beat a top dog team on their home court, much like the 2011 team defeating Kansas in their backyard. History says it’s possible. If there were a year for a tournament run to happen again for the Rams, this would be the year. The team is optimistic and so should be the fans.
If VCU can connect on half of their 3-point attempts and get efficient minutes from Hamdy and sophomore Justin Tillman off the bench, the Rams may find themselves in a winnable battle.
Prediction: VCU 73 – OU 71
Sports Editor, Bryant Drayton
Bryant is a sports advocate who’s always smiling. He is a senior print and online journalism major aspiring for a career as a professional or college football columnist. Bryant currently covers high school football games for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn