(The Sports Network)
The most daunting test to 11th-seeded VCU's Cinderella run presents itself today, as the Ram's encounter top-seeded Kansas in an Elite Eight matchup from the Alamodome.
The victor will advance to the Final Four, for a date with eight-seeded Butler.
VCU is making its first Elite Eight appearance. In fact, the Rams had never been to the Sweet 16 prior to Friday's thrilling 72-71 overtime victory over 10th-seeded Florida State. Successive wins over USC (59-46), sixth-seeded Georgetown (74-56) and third-seeded Purdue, 94-76, have also marked VCU's surprising run. The Rams, who hail from the Colonial Athletic Association, are now 27-11 on the season and 9-9 all-time in the Big Dance.
Kansas, the lone No. 1 seed to advance to this year's Elite Eight, did so with a dominating 77-57 Sweet 16 victory over 12th-seeded Richmond. The Jayhawks, who captured the Big 12's regular-season and tournament titles, have also posted victories over 16th-seeded Boston University (72-53) and ninth-seeded Illinois (73-59) during their current tourney run. They have won 35 games this season, marking the second most in school history and enter today's game in the midst of an 11-game win streak.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between VCU and Kansas on the hardwood.
VCU's team-oriented attack has seemingly produced a new standout player from round to round. Against Florida State, junior Bradford Burgess took the reins, as he not only scored a season-high 26 points, behind a career-high six three- pointers, but also put home the game-winning bucket off a beautifully scripted in-bounds play with less than 10 seconds remaining. Senior Joey Rodriguez, who delivered the pass on Burgess' deciding bucket, was once again masterful at the point, as he handed out a game-high 10 assists. Brandon Rozzell added 16 points, all of which came after halftime, while Jamie Skeen added 11 points and eight rebounds. The Rams' balance and willingness to move the ball was essential to the win, as they shot 45 percent from the field and handed out 18 assists against the nation's top field goal percentage defensive squad. On the season, Skeen, an All-CAA Second Team selection, leads the Rams in scoring (15.1 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 ppg), while Burgess ranks second in both categories (14.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg). Rozzell adds 11.8 ppg, while Rodriguez, an All-CAA Third Team pick, has handed out a team-high 195 assists to go with his 10.6 ppg. In all, VCU scores 71.9 ppg, while employing a trapping-style defense that generates 8.4 steals per tilt and holds opponents to 66.9 ppg.
Kansas, which has yet to be significantly tested in this tourney, was paced by Brady Morningstar in its most recent victory. Morningstar fell one point shy of a season-high with 18. His performance worked to overcome a poor shooting night by the Jayhawks' twin powerhouses Marcus and Markieff Morris, who combined to go just 6-of-18 from the field. Thomas Robinson also picked up the slack, as he finished with 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. The Jayhawks utilized a balanced attack and stifling defense to run out to a decisive 41-22 halftime lead, as seven different players tallied Kansas' first nine baskets of the game. In all, Kansas shot 47.7 percent from the floor, including 47.4 percent (9-of-19) from beyond the arc. Offensive efficiency is nothing new for the Jayhawks, who sport a top-10 scoring offense (81.7 ppg) and the nation's best field goal percentage (.512). Typically, it is Marcus Morris who leads the way. The Big 12 Player of the Year leads the team in scoring (17.1 ppg) and ranks second in rebounding (7.4 rpg). Brother Markieff, an All-Big 12 Second Team selection, pulls down a team high 8.2 rpg, while ranking second in scoring (13.6 ppg). Defensively, the Jayhawks hold opponents to 64.5 ppg.
Those doubting VCU's legitimacy have been made a fool round after round, but the Rams are in for their toughest test of the Tournament thus far. Similarly, it is likely the Jayhawks, who have largely coasted, will receive their stiffest challenge to date. In the end, though, the sheer precision and execution of the Kansas offense should prove to much for spunky VCU.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kansas 78, VCU 73