As everyone across the country knows the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament begins today. Unfortunately for local basketball fans, for the first time in a number of years, there are no local college basketball teams in this year’s edition of the men’s tournament.
Norfolk State was thought to be a lock to win the MEAC Tournament after finishing the regular season undefeated at 16-0 during the regular season. However, Norfolk State lost to Bethune-Cookman in the quarterfinal round of the MEAC Tournament and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. As a consolation, Norfolk State was invited to the NIT but lost to Virginia in the first round, 67-56, on Tuesday night.
So for local hoops fans, the VCU Rams are the closest and most viable team that we can root for in the tournament this year. After their Final Four trip in 2011, VCU has become one of the best mid-major basketball programs in the country. After joining the Atlantic 10 Conference this year, the Rams finished the season 26-8 and are a No.5 seed in the South Region.
In their Second Round matchup, the Rams will face No. 12 seed Akron Zips, who finished the season 26-6 and won the Mid-American Conference title. VCU will be unleashing their vaunted “Havoc” defense on the Zips and will be looking to avoid the 5-seed curse. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 12-seeds have advanced 34% of the time, making the 12-seed upset the most common of the tournament.
Integral to VCU’s Havoc defense is reserve sophomore guard, Briante Weber. In limited minutes, Weber leads VCU with 2.8 steals per game, which is also fifth in the nation. The 6’3” Chesapeake native is also fifth in the nation in steals percentage (7.63) after leading the nation in the category last year.
VCU is hoping that their all-out, full court trapping style of defense helps them make another deep tournament run. However, VCU is not the only local storyline in this year’s tournament.
James Madison (16) versus Indiana (1) – East Region
After winning the Colonial Athletic Conference Tournament, James Madison earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. In their first round / play-in game on Wednesday night, JMU defeated LIU Brooklyn 68-55. JMU advances to face Indiana, the top seed in the East Region. Located in Harrisonburg, Virginia, James Madison is sure to have a following here in the Hampton Roads area who would love to see them pull an upset over the top seed. However, barring a major upset, the season will come to an end for James Madison on Friday but they can boast of having at least won a tournament game.
Cincinnati (10) versus Creighton (7) – Midwest Region
Creighton features high-scoring forward Doug McDermott who finished second in the country in scoring at 23.1 points per game. This game will be one of contrasting styles – Creighton can score but struggles to defend while Cincinnati defends but struggles to score at times. Suffolk native, JaQuon Parker averages 11.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game for the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Villanova (9) versus North Carolina (8) – South Region
North Carolina features James Michael McAdoo, a 6’9” forward from Norfolk, Virginia. McAdoo led the Tarheels in points and rebounds (14.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game) and received All-ACC Second Team honors.
Oklahoma (10) versus San Diego State (7) – South Region
Chesapeake native, Steven Pledger is the Sooners second-leading scorer, averaging 11.8 points per game. Pledger was also named to the All-Big 12 Third Team this season.
Davidson (14) versus Marquette (3) – East Region
Davidson has won 17-straight games and some experts have picked this as a possible early round upset. Suffolk native, Davante Gardner is Marquette’s second leading scorer (11.5 points per game) and the team’s leading rebounder (4.9 rebounds per game).