(The Sports Network)
The 11th-seeded VCU Rams and the third-seeded Purdue Boilermakers meet at the United Center this evening for a third round matchup of the NCAA Tournament.
With two tourney games already under its belt, VCU is rolling. The Rams defeated USC, 59-46, in a "First Four" matchup on Wednesday, before earning a surprisingly dominant 74-56 victory over sixth-seeded Georgetown on Friday in Southwest Regional play. They have now stretched their overall record to 25-11 this season and hold a 6-9 all-time record in NCAA Tournament play.
Purdue, which has now won its tournament opener in each its last 13 appearances, earned an expected 65-43 rout of 14th-seeded Saint Peter's in Friday's second round matchup. The Boilermakers, who have made the Sweet 16 in each of the past two seasons, improved to 34-24 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 26-7 overall this season. The win halted a two-game skid, which saw Purdue drop its regular-season finale at Iowa, before getting blown out by Michigan State in its first game of the Big Ten Tournament.
VCU and Purdue have never met on the hardwood.
Led by a suffocating defensive effort, VCU not only upset Georgetown on Friday, but utterly dominated the Hoyas to earn its second win of the young tournament. In all, the Rams forced 17 turnovers and held the Hoyas to 38.5 percent shooting. Georgetown's two all-conference performers, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, finished a combined 6-of-27 from the field. After a tight- fisted opening 10 minutes, which saw five ties and four lead changed, the Rams opened things up with a 9-0 run, en route a 35-24 lead at the break. The second half, which opened with an 11-4 VCU run, saw the Rams build their lead to 25, which was the largest deficit that the Hoyas faced all year. Brandon Rozzell led the offensive charge for VCU, as he tied a career-high with six three-pointers and finished one shy of a career-high with 26 points. Joey Rodriguez, who has proven to be a master facilitator, finished with 17 points, seven assists and two steals, while Jamie Skeen and Bradford Burgess each added 12 points and combined for 13 rebounds. Once again, it was opportunistic defense that led the way for the Rams, as they turned the 17 Georgetown turnovers into 17 points. Behind talented up-and-coming head coach Shaka Smart, the Rams employ a trapping-style defense, which has led to 8.4 steals per game, good for 26th in the nation. Skeen, an All-Colonial Athletic Association Second Team selection, leads the offensive charge at 15.3 ppg, while also pulling a team-high 7.4 rpg. Burgess and Rozzell add 13.8 and 11.7 ppg, respectively, while Rodriguez, an All-CAA Third Team honoree, has doled out 174 assists to go with 10.7 ppg. In all, VCU scores 71.2 ppg, while allowing 66.5 on the other end of the floor.
Friday's result was never really in question for Purdue, which ran out to an early 15-4 lead, took a comfortable 33-17 lead into the break and opened the second half with a 7-0 run to cruise to victory. With the win, the Boilermakers improved their record to 24-0 on the year when holding a lead at halftime. E'Twaun Moore led the way for the Boilermakers, overcoming seven turnovers to tally a game-high 19 points. JaJuan Johnson was a force in the middle, as he recorded a double-double with 16 points and 16 boards, despite going just 6-of-16 from the floor. Playing without suspended backup guard Kelsey Barlow, Purdue got a lift from freshman Terone Johnson, who tallied eight points and a team-high four assists. With his performance, JaJuan Johnson stretched his streak of consecutive double-figure scoring games to 42. The Big Ten Player of the Year and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Johnson leads the Boilermakers in scoring (20.4 ppg), rebounding (8.4 rpg), blocks (76) and minutes played (35.3 mpg). He has significant help in the form of Moore, an All-Big Ten First Team selection, who ranks second on the team in scoring (18.2 pg) and assists (102), while knocking down a team-high 70 three- pointers. Behind this talented duo, the Boilermakers score 72.4 ppg. Johnson's effort on the defensive end has proven contagious, as Purdue sports a top-20 national scoring defense (60.9 ppg).
VCU has had a magical run thus far, but expect the Rams' good fortunes to run out today. Purdue not only possesses a dangerous one-two tandem in Johnson and Moore, but also an intimidating team defense, which should prove to be the difference here.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Purdue 75, V-C-U 68