VCU Rams (#9 seed) vs. Rhode Island Rams (#1 seed)
Watch on TV: NBCSN at noon
What happens when two Rams teams lock horns? Time to find out.
Yes, it’s the moment of truth for this year’s rocky VCU Rams team. After a nice come-from-behind victory against Dayton in the first round, they get to take on the A-10’s best team, Rhode Island, which is ranked #25 in the nation. Though it's better to play the best team early, considering VCU will need to win four games in four days to take home the A-10 trophy and that automatic bid to the NCAA tourney. A tall order for anybody, but the Rams could have a shot if they can make this next hurdle.
The first time these two teams played on Feb. 2 at the Siegel Center, the Rams lost 81-68 but the game was still competitive.
Rhode Island has senior experience and its team will be well rested after stumbling in the last couple games. VCU will need to come out confident, with energy, and play an almost perfect game -- but especially star Justin Tillman needs to have one of his bigger efforts this year. Rebounds will be important, Tillman needs to come up big on the glass, and point guard Jonathan Williams will also need to dig deep for another big offensive game, setting the pace of this team. He had 14 points in the round one effort as well as a crucial play down the stretch.
In the last matchup, Rhode Island crushed VCU on the offensive glass (19-8). That will need to change on Friday, obviously. VCU’s defense has shown sparks when it has needed to lately, and that’s a good sign for fans; plus they’ve gotten key help from their bench.
Bottomline: This feels like an interesting match-up because Rhode Island’s confidence may be a little shaky after two late-season losses. But there's no doubt that they've been the best team in the league all season.
Oddsmakers have Rhode Island favored by 8.5 points.
His Name is Buck
Richmond Spiders (#7) vs. St. Bonaventure Bonnie (#2)
Watch on TV: NBCSN at 6 p.m.
Listen: 950 AM or 99.5 FM
The young Spiders are on a three-game win streak after dispatching Duquesne in the first round by a comfortable margin. The Spiders’ Princeton offense has been humming these last three victories, racking up more points than any three-game stretch of the season. But their defense will have to be on point when they face the terrific Bonnies’ backcourt of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, one of the best in college basketball.
Adams is the potential A-10 Player of the Year. The Bonnies have won 12 in a row, the third longest streak in the nation. Not a good sign for Spiders fans.
The last time these teams met, the Spiders lost in Olean, N.Y. by a score of 97-88. But a key ingredient of this Spiders team was missing that game: De’ Monte Buckingham (who was out with the worst case of cramps I’ve ever seen). Buckingham is the toughest Spider on the team and an energy player who does a little bit of everything, especially corralling rebounds and adding defensive pressure. His handles are not the best, which limits him offensively, but he can still make 3-point shots and unleash the occasional monster putback dunk. Really it’s his warrior’s heart that the Spiders will need on Friday, plus some smart plays like taking charges.
Spiders redshirt freshman Grant Golden had an off-game in round one, playing only 23 minutes due to foul trouble (10 points and 9 rebounds). But that should help the team in round two; big dudes need more rest. More bright spots in round one were the energized play of Khwan Fore (14 points plus a big throwdown) and freshman Spider speedster and point guard Jacob Gilyard, who was clearly irked at being left off the A-10 rookie team. He took it out on Duquesne with 20 points and two more steals which tied UR's all-time single season steals record at 85. Dude is a freshman, people. Stone-cold.
Bottomline: Richmond will need to frustrate the Bonnies by switching defenses as well as by shooting extremely well again to take this game (and don't miss so many free throws). They need to make defensive stops on a hell of a backcourt. But I can almost guarantee that Buckingham will be up for the challenge, especially after missing the last game. If you believe in lucky signs: his numbers on Thursday? 7 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. Jackpot.