CLEVELAND - The 12 over 5 has been the most common tournament upset over the years with 34 percent of 12 seeds moving forward. Akron will try to increase that number when they take on No. 5 seed VCU Thursday night.
The Zips overcame the loss of point guard Alex Abreu to win the MAC Tournament and go dancing but now they try to play Cinderella against one of the A-10’s best.
Quinn Casteel has been covering VCU basketball for three years for The Commonwealth Times, VCU’s student newspaper. George Thomas is the Akron Zips beat writer for the Akron Beacon Journal. They offer their insight into the second round contest.
Is this a bad matchup for Akron?
Thomas: I don’t think it’s a bad matchup for one reason, and this is from the perspective of the Zips reacting to the announcement, they view this as them playing themselves. During fall practice, they were running a version of the full court press, Shaka’s system. They’re very much familiar with it and it doesn’t sound as if they’re particularly worried about it.
Casteel: I think probably the biggest challenge is that Akron head coach Keith Dambrot is Shaka Smart’s mentor, so that’s going to be a tough, emotional matchup for them. Other than that, I think VCU matches up pretty well, especially considering the defense they play and that Akron has an injury to their point guard.
What will Akron have to do to pull the upset?
Thomas: They have to take care of the ball. They have to rebound. The Rams give up the ball 11.8 times per game but force opponents to give up the ball 19.9 times per game. The Zips have to minimize their turnovers - it’s that simple.
What factors into VCU’s success?
Casteel: This is probably the most talented VCU team since Shaka has come to Richmond. When you pair that with the Havoc defense and the full-court pressure that they play 40 minutes every game, it has really led to the type of season that they’ve had. It all starts with the defense but everything else feeds off of that, the shooting of senior Troy Daniels, one of the best three point shooters in the country, and sophomore Treveon Graham, one of the best scorers in the A-10.
A major storyline for the Zips is the loss of starting point guard Alex Abreu - can VCU exploit that?
Casteel: Every time they’ve faced a freshman point guard they’ve pretty much just eaten them alive. Even experienced guys struggle to run their offense against this style of pressure. If they force some turnovers early, it’s the type of thing where they can jump on people.
Thomas: Had you asked me a couple weeks ago, I would have said yeah. The logical thing is to still go at Carmelo Betancourt but he’s not the only one handling the ball. They have Nick Harney, a 6’7/6’8 guy playing essentially what’s a point forward. He’s handling the ball as well and he’s confident in doing it, so I don’t know that they will be able to exploit that matchup.
What type of team presents a struggle for VCU?
Casteel: They struggled against teams like St. Louis or La Salle, with big men that can get a rebound, secure it and find a way to get it across half court, and smart guards. When they beat VCU, La Salle’s guards were going coast-to-coast. St. Louis slowed the game down and made it a half-court game. Getting VCU playing half-court defense as much as possible is the key to beating them.
Can Akron be that type of team that gives VCU problems?
Thomas: The Rams aren’t a good rebounding team. The Zips are, so they have to take advantage of that. If they can get the ball down low, and I suspect that’s what their gameplan is - protect the ball, rebound, get it down low - the Rams could be in trouble because Demetrius Treadwell has a motor that never stops. He’s tough on the offensive rebounds especially. Zeke Marshall has the ability, when he’s amped, to dominate at the rim. The question is, how much is he going to be into things?
Shaka Smart and Keith Dambrot know each other well and their teams have faced off a bunch over the past few years. Does that have any impact on the outlook for this one?
Thomas: Keith has shown me in the past two weeks just how good of a basketball coach he is. It wasn’t just about Xs and Os with the Abreu situation. He had to take a team and just pull them out of a funk. I’ve never met Shaka Smart, so we’re going to call this a push just to be safe.
Casteel: I think the notion around Richmond is that it actually gives Akron an advantage because of that emotional connection. He [Dambrot] could be one guy who knows Shaka Smart better than Shaka Smart.
What’s your prediction?
Casteel: I like VCU to beat Akron because they’re missing their point guard. VCU wins 70-62.
Thomas: I normally don’t predict games but I will say this - an upset is possible. I counted them out of the MAC Tournament. Then I watched them pull off a close game and beat the hell out of Ohio, so I’m not going to count them out. I’ve learned my lesson.
Akron vs. VCU tips at 9:45 p.m. See highlights on Good Morning Cleveland Friday.
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