No. 9 seed Central Florida is the slight favorite in Friday night’s matchup against eighth-seeded VCU. The Knights are a trendy pick, but the East Region contest is a difficult one to call.
The Knights haven’t played in the NCAA tournament since 2005, and they’ve never made it past the first round. VCU, meanwhile, has become a regular Big Dance contender. Last year, the Rams missed the postseason tournament for the first time since 2011, when the school burst onto the scene with a surprise Final Four run under then-head coach Shaka Smart.
The Knights own a slightly higher NET ranking than VCU at No. 30 and No. 34, respectively. UCF also faced a tougher schedule (44th in the nation) compared to the Rams (No. 65), but VCU takes the cake when it comes to defense.
The Rams rank 10th in the nation in scoring defense and tie with Memphis for 14th in the nation in forced turnovers. Speaking of Memphis, UCF got trounced by the Tigers 79-55 in the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal after turning the ball over 16 times and shooting 35.8 percent from the field.
VCU also lost in the conference tournament quarterfinal of the Atlantic 10, falling 75-70 to Rhode Island after leading scorer Marcus Evans (13.8 ppg) left the first half with a bone bruise in his left knee. He’s expected to play in Friday night’s game. Prior to the Rhode Island matchup, the Rams won a stretch of 12 straight games. They also kept it close on the road against a ninth-ranked Virginia back in December in an eight-point defeat.
UCF won eight of its last 12 games, including narrow victories over Houston and Cincinnati in early March. The Knights also feature the tallest player in the country, Tacko Fall at 7’6”. He averages 10.9 points per game on 75.4 percent shooting, blocks 2.5 shots per game and makes the paint an intimidating place for any player to enter.
Both VCU’s and UCF’s defenses are allowing an average of no more than 65 points per game. It should be a low-scoring affair in Friday night’s game. Depth and free-throw shooting will make the difference, and VCU is superior in both categories.
The Rams are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games following a straight-up loss and 15-4 ATS in their last 19 NCAA tournament games. The Knights are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games overall and 2-5 ATS in their last 7 games following a ATS loss.
Avoid the trendy pick and take VCU to win a close first-round contest.
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