Posted: 10:05 p.m. Sunday, March 17, 2013
By Matt Sussman
First, I'll say this: I didn't see Akron sliding up to a 12-seed, but good on them for getting their best slotting in program history. This will make their challenge slightly less daunting. And as much as I cannot enter the minds of the NCAA selection committee, I have to think they paired Akron with VCU due to a compelling storyline: VCU coach Shaka Smart was a former Akron assistant for three seasons from 2003-06, the latter two under head coach Keith Dambrot.
Smart was an assistant for a few other programs before guiding the Rams in 2009 and eventually leading them to the Final Four in 2011, but he still has a soft spot for the MAC program, as evidenced by him sending the Akron team a video message prior to the MAC tournament, as George M. Thomas put it, "to remind them how the UA program responds to adversity." Likewise, Dambrot called Smart "like a brother to me" after the Zips and Rams' fate previously intertwined in December 2011 when VCU beat them on a last-second layup. They were also paired together in the 2010 BracketBuster, and VCU won that too. In fact, Akron is 0-6 all-time against the Rams.
So here we go again.
From a game perspective, this is going to be a tough one. VCU is number one in Division I in turnovers forced per game (19.2, a whole TO more than second-place Louisville). They're also highly efficient on offense — 19th in the country with 1.09 points per possession. Their guard composition is similar in that they're average at 3-pointers and not incredibly great at free throws, but they're slightly better than Akron at both. But the main difference is they have two three guards who average at least 10 points per game, led by Treveon Graham (15.6 ppg). Akron has none.
What they lack, however, is size. They had a 7-footer on their team … until recently. Their primary inside man is 6'9" Juvonte Reddic, their second-leading scorer who averages 14.4 points and 8.3 rebounds. As a team they seem to have a trouble defending 2-pointers, as opponents are shooting almost 50 percent from inside the arc. They also don't have a shot-blocking presence. Akron has to like the sound of that. They also have to appreciate the venue: Auburn Hills is about a 3-1/2 hour drive from Akron, and totally doable considering they are the late game on Thursday night.
But we can get more into the matchup. For now, it was a fun little draw they gave Akron. Finally, a break.