The always intriguing 12-5 matchup in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament takes place at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Thursday night, as the fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth Rams take on the 12th-seeded Akron Zips in second-round action.
The winner of this bout will advance to the third round to play the survivor of the No. 4 seed Michigan/No. 13 seed South Dakota State matchup on Saturday.
Akron's (26-6) stellar season was highlighted by a 19-game win streak that lasted from mid-December through the end of February. After earning a double- bye in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, it went on to defeat Kent State (62-59) and Ohio University (65-46) en route to the tournament title and the automatic bid to the Big Dance. The Zips had previously qualified for the tournament in 1986, 2009 and 2011, but they experienced first-round exits each time.
Even though VCU lost the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament championship game to Saint Louis, 62-56, it still had a fantastic campaign in its first season in its new conference after coming over from the Colonial Athletic Association, going 26-8 overall (12-4 A-10), which included victories over tournament-bound teams Florida Gulf Coast, Memphis, Belmont, Western Kentucky and Butler. The Rams have been one of the most successful NCAA Tournament teams in recent years, making the field five times since 2007, including an improbable Final Four run in 2009 as an 11 seed.
VCU head coach Shaka Smart spent three seasons as an assistant at Akron from 2003-06, with two of those campaigns coming under Zips' current head coach Keith Dambrot.
VCU has swept Akron in six previous meetings, most recently winning on the road on Dec. 29, 2011, 76-75, in overtime.
The Zips boasted one of the top scoring offenses in the MAC this season, netting 72.7 ppg on nearly 46 percent efficiency from the field, and they were no slouches at the defensive end either, allowing a mere 62.0 ppg. The catalyst at both ends of the floor is 7-0 center Zeke Marshall, who not only pours in 13.0 ppg and grabs 7.1 rpg, but ranks fourth in the nation in both field goal percentage (.654) and blocks (3.7 bpg). Demetrius Treadwell is also solid in the paint, tallying 11.4 ppg and 7.9 rpg. Alex Abreu (10.3 ppg, 6.0 apg) was arguably the top point guard in the MAC before being suspended earlier this month. In his absence, Nick Harney (9.7 ppg) has been called upon to shoulder more of the scoring load.
In a wide-open A-10, VCU stood above the rest, ranking first in scoring offense with 77.3 ppg on nearly 45 percent shooting from the field, and it relies heavily on the 3-point shot, making 270 of them (7.9 per game) at a 35.2 percent clip. Treveon Graham leads the way with 15.5 ppg to go with 6.0 rpg. Juvonte Reddic, the only true forward in the Rams' starting five, is the anchor down low with 14.4 ppg on 56.1 percent from the field, and rounding out his stat sheet with 8.3 rpg, 1.4 spg and 0.9 rpg. Troy Daniels (12.1 ppg) is one of the busiest 3-point shooters in the nation, draining 117-of-288 from long distance (.406), while Rob Bradenberg rounds out the double-digit scorer with 10.4 ppg. Getting the ball in the hands of these shooters is Darius Theus, who's dished out 161 assists (4.9 pg) compared to just 62 turnovers while also logging 2.5 spg. In addition to its potent offense, VCU also ranks first in the nation with an incredible +8.0 turnover margin.