March Madness Pick
It wasn’t the smoothest of victories for Oklahoma in the first round — especially playing in Oklahoma City — but the Sooners got the job done against CS Bakersfield, which is all that matters. They’ll have a bit more resistance in the second round, with an experienced VCU team that has seen plenty of powerhouses this season.
The Rams upset (seeding wise) Oregon State 75-67 in the first round. VCU closed as a 4-point favorite in a lot of places despite being the 10-seed. VCU was one of the better Atlantic 10 teams throughout the year, but maybe more importantly got valuable early-season reps against teams like Duke (79-71 loss), Wisconsin (74-73 loss) and Cincinnati (69-63 loss). They didn’t win any of those Games, but at the least know what’s needed to win this one.
After some heart-wrenching first round losses, it’s hard to see Oklahoma taking this Game lightly, just because VCU is a double-digit seed. The Sooners don’t have the luxury of doing that anyway with the team they have.
Oklahoma lives and dies by its starting backcOurt, which bases most of their Game off three pointers. Their three guards combined for 58 points in the first Game as the Sooners went 11-of-20 from long range. They lost the rebound battle, but that didn’t really matter when they were hitting 50% of their shots from the floor.
This Game will be a little tougher, though. If anything, VCU’s defense could give some problems to Oklahoma’s trio. Notice the scores of VCU’s losses listed earlier, none of those opponents surpassed 80 points. Despite being large underdogs, the Rams held Duke to 79 points, which was pretty respectable. And that’ll be the main reason people back VCU to cover in this Game.
This isn’t the same ‘havoc’ defense as year’s past with a new coach, but VCU still has the same athletic team that can cause problems. Guards JeQuan Lewis and Korey Billbury won’t back down from the task of stopping Oklahoma’s backcOurt. But will that matter?
Buddy Hield ran roughshod through the Big 12 this year, averaging 25 points per Game and is like no other player VCU has seen this season. VCU will likely have to use Melvin Johnson or Jordan Burgess on Hield because of his size. In addition to Hield, who is a knockdown shooter, point guard Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard can be just as good from distance. That’s what the Rams will have to limit. Hield will get his points no matter what, but it may be a matter of stopping OU’s second and third options in Cousins and Woodard. If those guys aren’t making their shots from deep, this will be a close Game.
Oklahoma doesn’t have the presence in the paint to win this Game down low and that could end up ending their Tournament at some point. LUckily for the Sooners, VCU doesn’t have much down low either. Mo Alie-Cox had 20 points and eight boards last Game, but he’s not a guy that’s going to dominate Oklahoma coming in at just 6-7. Ryan Spangler and Khadeem LAttin should both be able to handle him.
If VCU’s defense can limit the easy looks for Oklahoma, they can definitely keep it close. Keeping up on the scoreboard may be the bigger issue for the Rams. Lewis had 21 points, seven boards and eight assists in the first Game and may have to do that again to remain competitive.
Playing in Oklahoma City presents another problem, but at the least, this should be a single-digit Game most of the way.
Our Pick – VCU +7