NCAA tournament team previews: VCU Rams
As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats though Monday, March 16.
Record: 26-9 (12-6 in Atlantic 10)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 108.1 (61st)/93.6 (23rd)
Seed: No. 7 in West
Impact player: Treveon Graham, senior, guard: 16.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 115.3 O-rating
The Case For: As always, the Rams' success starts on the defensive end of the floor with their pressure Havoc defense. VCU forces more than 16 turnovers per game—ranking third in turnover differential—and opponents cough it up on almost 24% of possessions. The Rams are also second in steal percentage at 14.2 and block shots on another 12.7% of possessions.
The Rams were trending in the wrong direction, dropping six of 10 heading into their regular season finale at George Mason on March 7, but they are now playing their best ball of the season. Shaka Smart's team used that 11-point win over the Patriots—in which they made 19 steals—as a springboard to the Atlantic 10 tournament, where they won four games in four days to take the league championship. The most impressive of those victories was a 20-point smackdown of regular season champ Davidson in the semifinals that avenged a 27-point loss just nine days earlier.
The Case Against: If teams can successfully navigate through the backcourt, they will find comparatively soft resistance in the frontcourt. VCU allows teams to shoot 43% from the floor and was outrebounded on the season. The loss of senior guard Briante Weber has had a measurable impact on the Rams' defense. Weber was on the verge of becoming the NCAAs all-time steals leader when he tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his right knee in a Jan. 31 loss at Richmond. Before that game, VCU was getting 10.5 steals per game. Since then it has managed 8.6.
Graham and junior guard Melvin Johnson (12.3 ppg) are the Rams' only double-digit scorers and reliable outside shooters. And as a team they shoot only 65.6% from the free throw line, a vulnerability in the kind of close games they can expect to see in the tournament. Those offensive limitations could prove fatal against a defensive juggernaut like Arizona.