Date: Sunday, March 20
Time: 7:10 PM EST (6:10 PM Central)
Just one week ago Virginia Commonwealth was one of those teams that wasn't even supposed to be in the NCAA Tournament. Their major wins over UCLA, Wofford, Old Dominion, Wichita State and George Mason were impressive enough for the selection committee, but many analysts insisted that Colorado and Virgina Tech were more impressive.
Well, if VCU didn't belong in the tourney back then, they've certainly earned their way in by now. The Rams are fresh off dismantling USC and Georgetown earlier in the week to find themselves now just one win short of the Sweet Sixteen. To win those first to games, VCU relied on tight 3-point defense, as they held USC to 1/9 from long range and Georgetown to a similarly miserable 5/26. They also forced 32 turnovers between the two games. On offense, they grabbed a ridiculous 15 offensive rebounds vs. USC and caught fire from long range vs. Georgetown with a 12/25 downpour.
On the year, VCU is a very good 3-point shooting team and they force a bunch of turnovers on defense, but their 3-point defense and offensive boarding are just average. At least those two aspects will be difficult to replicate against Purdue, the strongest team they have faced all season.
VCU's top player is a 6'9 dynamic scoring forward named Jamie Skeen. With shooting percentages of 38% from long range and 57% from inside the arc, Skeen can score from pretty much anywhere. He's averaging 15.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this season.
Responsible for getting Skeen the ball is 5'10 senior point guard Joey Rodriguez. Rodriguez isn't much of a scorer (he shoots 34% on 3-pointers, but only 37% on twos), but he's an expert distributor and averages 4.8 assists per game. He should probably look to pass more often versus Purdue, because his low shooting percentage doesn't bode well against tight Boilermaker defense.
Another threat for the 'Makers to look out for is 6'5 wing Bradford Burgess. The junior is yet another shooter for the Rams. He makes 40% of his 3-pointers and 55% from inside the arc. Burgess also helps out on the glass with 6.3 rebounds to go with 13.8 points per game.
Purdue will obviously lean on its top two players, JaJuan Johnson and E'twaun Moore, to carry the load on both sides of the ball. However, as the season has rolled on, they've gotten increased scoring production out of point guard Lewis Jackson. He was very productive versus Saint Peter's on Friday with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Jackson's defense on VCU's Rodriguez will also be key for the Boilers.
With Kelsey Barlow on suspension, Purdue's freshman guard Terone Johnson will probably be the first guy off the bench. Johnson had a nice games versus Saint Peter's with 8 points and 4 assists, which is good, because Purdue will need more bench production like that since the Barlow suspension threatened their depth.
VCU has had a great run so far, but Purdue's efficient ball handling will keep them from giving up too many turnovers and they'll be able to defend VCU's bombers better than the prior two opponents. The Boilers should be good enough to defeat the Rams as well as the 9-point spread.