Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
For the 18th time in program history, men’s basketball is going dancing in the NCAA tournament.
The Rams, who lost 74-65 to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 championship game on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, earned an at-large selection in the tournament as a No. 10 seed. VCU will play No. 7 Oregon in the first round on March 20.
“The emotions didn’t really get to me when we first seen the name,” sophomore guard Bones Hyland said. “Hours later, it definitely did. It definitely hit that we were playing in March Madness.”
VCU and Oregon have only played once before. The Rams won 77-63 in the 2014 Legends Classic during former coach Shaka Smart’s last season in Richmond.
The Rams were the No. 14 team in the Associated Press Poll during the first meeting with the Ducks. Former guard Melvin Johnson led the black and gold with 19 points and four rebounds. Guard Treveon Graham added 13 points, while forward Mo Alie-Cox logged 10 points.
The duration of the men’s NCAA tournament will be played in Indianapolis, using six different venues: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Lucas Oil Stadium and Mackey Arena.
The Rams will play at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, located just outside of downtown Indianapolis at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
The team will practice once at the Coliseum on Thursday before Saturday night’s game and will practice in the Indiana Convention Center for the other practices, coach Mike Rhoades said.
When the team arrived at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis on Sunday night, they were tested for COVID-19 and entered a 21-hour quarantine period, Rhoades said.
“There’s no free time,” Rhoades said. “These guys are confined to the hotel, and if we go anywhere, it’s in a group. … ‘Inclusive’ is the word that I use.”
Hyland said he spent the quarantine laying in bed and watching ESPN’s SportsCenter on TV.
“When we first got here, it was definitely very strict,” Hyland said.
Each athlete needed two negative tests to exit the quarantine period, Rhoades said. When Jimmy Martelli, director of operations, texted the team that the period was over, many players cried out “freedom,” Rhoades said.
The Ducks were the Pac-12 regular season champions, but lost in the conference semifinals to Oregon State 75-64 on March 12 in Las Vegas.
Oregon’s strength is perimeter shooting with their top five scorers shooting 37% or better from deep.
Hyland said he knows the Ducks will make 3-pointers; the Rams just need to limit the amount of made shots from beyond the arc.
“Try to run them off the line, make them put the ball on the floor” Hyland said. “Just basically flying around, which is one of our core values. Just sticking to what we do, and that should work for us.”
Oregon is led by forward Eugene Omoruyi and guard Chris Duarte, who are both averaging 16.7 points.
Omoruyi has logged seven games of 20 points or more, including a 31-point performance against Missouri on Dec. 2.
“They have four, five guys on the court at all times that can pass, dribble and shoot at a high level,” Rhoades said. “They’re one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country.”
The matchup with the Ducks will be one of only two games in the first round that feature a top-20 offense and a top-20 defense. The Rams are No. 12 in the country in defensive efficiency and the Ducks are No. 16 in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
L.J. Figueroa, a St. John’s transfer, isn’t a stranger to Rhoades and the Rams. When VCU played St. John’s in 2018, the guard/forward scored 15 points in the Red Storm’s overtime win.
This season, Figueroa is averaging 12.3 points for the Ducks, including a career-high 21 points in the Pac-12 quarterfinals against Arizona State.
The No. 10 Rams and No. 7 Ducks will square off in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis at 9:57 p.m. on March 20. The game will be televised on TNT.