Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Current record: 29-6 (15-3), CAA Tournament champs
Current RPI: 38
Current Sagarin: 43
Current Pomeroy: 40 (IU is #10)
2010-11 record: 28-12 (12-6), lost to Butler in Final Four
2010-11 RPI: 49
2010-11 Sagarin: 37
2010-11 Pomeroy: 52
Series: IU leads 1-0 (12/9/1988, 85-68 in Bloomington)
Pomeroy scouting report
TV: approximately 7:10 Saturday, TBS
Over the last few weeks, IU has ended several embarrassing streaks: four years without an NCAA Tournament bid, six years without a Big Ten Tournament win, five years without an NCAA Tournament game. Now, the Hoosiers seek to advance to the second weekend for the first time since IU's improbable championship game run in 2002. From 1973 through 1994, IU reached the round of 16 fourteen times. Given the format of the tournament for most of those seasons, making the round of 16 often required only one win, but it was more difficult to make the tournament before 1985 as well. Regardless, an era in which IU made the regional round nearly two thirds of the time has been followed by only one trip to the second weekend in the last 18 seasons. Just over three months ago, I was quite worried about whether IU could possibly win at Evansville. Today, the Hoosiers stand on the cusp of reaching the Sweet 16 following three consecutive twenty loss seasons.
Standing in the way, however, are coach Shaka Smart and the Virginia Commonwealth Rams. I don't think it's any exaggeration to say that VCU's run to the 2011 Final Four was the most remarkable run in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Other double digit seeds have reached the Final Four, but VCU was an extremely controversial choice even for the "First Four," and obviously would not have made the Tournament in any season before 2011. The Rams were the first team to win five games to reach the Final Four, and the pedigree of the programs they defeated was pretty impressive: USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas. Other than a one point win over FSU, all of VCU's 2011 Tournament wins were by double digit margins.
The 2012 Rams are a different team, of course. Of the five Rams who averaged 20 or more minutes in 2011, only Bradford Burgess returns. VCU has survived the loss of so many contributors by committing itself to an aggressive, intense, and extremely effective defense. VCU allows only .91 point per possession, and ranks #21 nationally in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency. The Rams don't particularly stand out in field goal defense, and have very poor defensive rebounding numbers, but they lead the nation in both defensive turnover percentage (27.2) and steal percentage (16.1). This is offset by a pretty sound 17.5 percent turnover percentage on offense. VCU averages 66 possessions per game, which means that in their typical game the Rams force 18 turnovers and commit only 12. Obviously, that is a huge advantage. Turnovers have been a problem for IU over the last few years, and although the raw number of errors committed by IU offensively has diminished, IU was in the red in turnover percentage in Big Ten play, and the Hoosiers' decent overall numbers are skewed by the non-conference. The good news for IU is that VCU is pedestrian on offense other than in the turnover column. This truly is a game of strength against strength: based on Pomeroy's numbers, this game matches the #2 offense in the nation against the #21 defense.
Before beating Wichita State, the Rams didn't really have a signature win. Their only win over a team in the Pomeroy top 50 came in the CAA title game against Drexel. They went 1-3 against teams from the six major conferences, beating South Florida but losing to Alabama, Seton Hall, and a horrid Georgia Tech team. Pomeroy gives IU a 74 percent chance of victory. But for all of that, this is a troubling matchup given IU's history of turnover problems, VCU's NCAA Tournament experience, and the loss of Verdell Jones III, one of IU's key ball handlers. I have no feel for this game. I can see why each team would be concerned about the other. IU's size and depth should create problems. VCU's defense should be an issue for IU's suspect ball-handling. I really think it's going to be a great game. Advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament would be a huge step for this program, and IU is in an excellent position to do it.