As part of its preview of the 2016 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 statistics are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All other advanced stats are also from kenpom.com (unless noted otherwise), and are through March 14.
Record: 24–10 (14–4 Atlantic 10)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 108.8 (82nd)/95.0 (22nd)
Seed: West No. 10
Impact player: Melvin Johnson, senior, guard. 17.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.2 apg
The Case For: Virginia Commonwealth boasts one of the most disruptive defenses in the country. The Rams enter the NCAA tournament with the 22nd-most efficient defense, per kenpom.com, and they set themselves apart in the turnover department. Coach Will Wade’s group forced 9.5 turnovers a game this season; no other team in the Atlantic 10 averaged more than 6.9. That’s how VCU ranks fourth in the country in steal percentage defense (12.4) and 14th in turnover percentage defense (21.9). Keep an eye on junior forward Mo Alie-Cox, an All A-10 Defensive Team selection who averages nearly two blocks per game.
In searching for a seasoned 10-seed, one would be wise to consider VCU. The program turned its sixth straight appearance in a conference tournament title game into a sixth consecutive NCAA tournament berth. The Rams know how to win, and they do so with four players averaging double figures. That quartet includes Johnson, a first-team All A-10 honoree, and senior guard Korey Billbury, who averaged 16.0 points in three conference tournament games.
The Case Against: The Rams have failed to perform against top-tier competition this season. They finished 4–8 against teams ranked in kenpom.com’s top 100, including losses to top-50 squads like Cincinnati, Duke and Wisconsin in non-conference play. VCU’s most recent performance won’t instill much confidence, either. After beating Saint Joseph’s during the regular season, the program fell to the Hawks in the A-10 tournament title game, 87–74. In that game Wade’s roster allowed Saint Joseph’s to shoot 65% from the floor.
This will also be VCU’s first recent trip to the NCAA tournament without Shaka Smart. The longtime Rams’ coach took his bracket-busting ways to Texas after last season, paving the way for Wade to arrive from Chattanooga. Wade has the necessary pedigree, having served as an assistant under Smart at VCU from 2009–13. But he has never led a team to the NCAAs as a head coach. Does that make the Rams less viable as an upset pick?
SI Prediction: Beat Oregon State in the first round; lose to Oklahoma in the second round