Seemingly every year, a No. 12 seed beats a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Per NCAA.com, 52 12-seeds have upset 5-seeds since 1985.
Could VCU be the next 12-seed to pull it off?
The Rams (27-7) will play No. 5 seed St. Mary’s (26-7) on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Per OddsChecker, VCU is a four-point underdog, but it should be a popular pick to take down the Gaels and start a possible Cinderella run.
On paper, the teams look evenly matched. St. Mary’s held teams to 60.1 points per game and scored 71.4 points per contest. VCU allowed 62.8 points per game and scored the same average as the Gaels.
Take a little deeper look at the resumes, and it’s clear why St. Mary’s is the higher seed.
The California team has an 11 NET Rating and Quad 1 wins over San Diego State and Gonzaga. VCU has none, and it lost its lone Quad 1 game by 15 points against Memphis. VCU enters the tournament with a NET 53 rating and didn’t play a ranked team the entire season.
But don’t let resumes fool you. The Rams are getting hot at the right time, winning nine straight and 21 of their past 24. They took home the Atlantic 10 regular-season and conference tournament titles. St. Mary’s, meanwhile, lost in its championship game.
While the team’s scoring profiles are similar, their games are not. VCU is known for a fast-paced, high-pressure defense while St. Mary’s is known for a slower pace.
“Where we want to pick up and pressure and fly around and get a lot of deflections, they want to play pack-line, very positional, keep you from getting to the rim or into the lane,” VCU head coach Mike Rhoades recently said, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “It’s almost like they’re building walls every time the ball’s passed, a big fort and keeping you outside the fort.”
That wall style has been in place for 20 years at St. Mary’s under coach Randy Bennett. It led to a Sweet 16 appearance in 2011 but no other deep runs. VCU is best known for a Cinderella run to the Final Four in 2011.
The game’s location — Albany, N.Y., a cross-country trip for St. Mary’s — is an edge for VCU, which has a much shorter trip. VCU should have a big advantage in rest, which can often have an impact on shooting.
It’s another reason why you should fill in VCU as the latest 12-vs.-5 upset on your NCAA Tournament bracket.