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Team Profile: 2008 Bracket Buster Preview: VCU vs. Akron

by Chris Mackinder | February 20th, 2008

Game Information: VCU (19-6, 12-3 CAA) vs. Akron (18-7, 8-4 MAC), 11 a.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2.About VCU: One year ago, Virginia Commonwealth took a big hit in its Bracket Buster matchup. The Rams fell to Bradley, 73-64, and I wrote, “The Rams might have to run the table in their remaining regular season games and make it all the way to the finals of the CAA Tournament for a spot in the Field of 65.” VCU did just that en route to not only a NCAA Tournament appearance, but also a first round upset of Duke. The best thing VCU could have hoped for this year was the return of Eric Maynor. It was Maynor, of course, who hit the free-throw line jumper with 1.8 seconds left to knock off the Blue Devils last season. VCU isn’t all about Maynor – Jamal Shuler averages 16 ppg – but it is safe to say as Maynor goes, VCU follows.

About Akron: Akron’s offense is focused around four players – Jeremiah Wood, Nick Dials and Nate Linhart and Cedrick Middleton. The first three average more than 9 ppg while Middleton drops in 8.7 ppg. Three are seniors while one is a junior, highlighting the experience head coach Keith Dambrot’s team has. Akron played a so-so nonconference schedule with games against Temple (win), at Winthrop (loss) and at Dayton (OT loss) and has shown flashes of brilliance on the floor this season, but lost a tight game to the Golden Flashes in their biggest conference game to-date.

Key Matchups: VCU’s Eric Maynor vs. Akron’s Nick Dials/ VCU’s Jamal Shuler vs. Akron’s Cedrick Middleton.
In a battle of the guards, VCU seemingly has a big offensive edge (33.9 ppg vs. 21.4 ppg). Maynor and Shuler are 6-foot-2 and 6-3, respectively, while Akron’s tandem measures in at 6-1 and 6-foot. Akron’s Dials and Middleton are both seniors and have plenty of game experience together but it might not be enough. Those few inches in favor of the Rams might be just enough to keep the control of the game in the hands of VCU’s guards.

By The Numbers

VCU
W-L: 19-6
RPI: 64
SOS: 167
NCSOS: 84
Vs. Top 50: 2-2
R/N: 8-5

Akron
W-L: 18-7
RPI: 95
SOS: 223
NCSOS: 237
Vs Top 50: 0-2
R/N: 6-6

NCAA Tournament Implications: Both teams need to win this game to help their at-large chances. The weakness of middle and bottom the MAC this season means Akron almost certainly needs to win the MAC Tournament to secure an NCAA Tournament bid.  Saturday’s game is more important for seeding should they get the MAC’s automatic bid, as an at-large selection is unlikely.  VCU, on the other hand, could run the table this season and lose in the CAA finals and possibly grab an at-large bid. Will this game make a huge difference for either team come Selection Sunday?

In all reality, the answer is no. Neither has a resume solid enough to be in at-large talks at the moment and beating a team with an RPI in the 60-100 range isn’t exactly breathtaking. One thing is for sure; the loser of this game has no shot at an at-large bid.

Prediction: VCU 70, Akron 62. VCU plays in a tougher conference and has been battle tested slightly more this season. The fact Akron has lost to the likes of Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois doesn’t bode well for the Zips. There won’t be any heroics in this contest but it should be a solid game between two talented mid-major schools.

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