The Akron Zips have done something very special this month but can they pull off a victory against a team that is poised to capitalize on their foremost weaknesses?
Akron can win because…
Akron is one terrifically tough and resilient team. NCAA basketball odds makers know that it is hard to easily appreciate just how much of a feat the Zips pulled off this past weekend at the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Akron was a diminished, depleted team in need of a makeover and a group hug just a week ago when it was disclosed that star point guard Alex Abreu had been arrested on charges of trafficking marijuana. The suspension was particularly devastating – or at least figured to be – because it occurred just one week before the MAC tourney.
Teams get evaluated by the NCAA Tournament's Selection Committee based on the team they will have available in the NCAA tournament, so when Abreu was arrested, Akron's chances of gaining an at-large bid to the field of 68 were basically eliminated. Akron had to win the MAC Tournament to go to the bigger tournament and with Abreu - a veteran floor leader and the facilitator of the team's offense - completely removed from the picture, the Zips had to turn to a freshman point guard, Carmelo Betancourt. Moreover, they had to do so on very short notice and people making their NCAA Basketball picks gave them no shot.
Yet, Akron won the MAC Tournament anyway. It did so with tremendous defense. Against Kent State in the MAC semifinals, Akron limited Kent State's star scorer to 1-of-11 shooting and only six points. In the MAC final against Ohio on Saturday - a game Akron was not expected to win without Abreu - the Zips limited Ohio Star D.J. Cooper to just eight points on 0-of-8 shooting from the field. Betancourt was solid at the point, and big man Zeke Marshall played at a very high level.
This team finds answers. At tournament time, few abilities matter more.
VCU can win because…
The Rams are in position to take advantage of Akron's big problem. If there is one position on the floor that must be strong against VCU, it's point guard. This is the game in which the loss of Alex Abreu should hurt the Zips in a big way. Abreu has a terrific handle; he was able to break defensive pressure and stand up to full-court or quarter-court traps with great skill and dexterity. Not having Abreu means that VCU's "Havoc" defense, with full-court pressure and ample substitutions, should be able to run wild in this game, smothering Carmelo Betancourt, the inexperienced new floor leader for Akron.
Virginia Commonwealth forced 23 turnovers in its Saturday win over Massachusetts in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. If this game plays out the way it should, VCU should force nearly 20 turnovers against Akron, and that should be quite enough to win.
Outlook & Prediction:
This is just the worst matchup Akron could have faced in the first round, all things considered. Akron needed to play a team that did not apply withering defensive pressure. It needed to face a team that preferred a slow pace and did not rely on its defense more than anything else. VCU is not that kind of team. The Rams will hound Betancourt and get lots of turnovers, en route to a comfortable win. Add a VCU win to your bracket and back them with your sports picks.
Free College Basketball Pick: VCU -7 at Ladbrokes