East Region First Round Prediction & Free Pick: #8 VCU vs. #9 UCF

Date | AuthorAdmir Aljic

Last Updated: 2019-03-22

Two at-large teams will lock horns in the first round of the East Region, as the No. 9 seed UCF Knights meet the No. 8 seed VCU Rams at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina, on Friday, March 22, 2019. Both teams will have huge support from the stands, as we expect to see a thrilling battle in their first ever head-to-head duel, and the Knights are listed as 1-point favorites with the total at paltry 126.5 points.

The UCF Knights finished the regular season at the 4th spot of the American Athletic Conference standings with a 23-8 overall record and 13-5 in the conference play. However, the Knights were a huge disappointment at the AAC championship tournament, losing to the Memphis Tigers 79-55 in the quarterfinals. They shot just 35.8% from the field and 57.9% from the free-throw line while making seven assists and 16 turnovers. Still, the Knights will appear in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 30 at the NCAA NET Rankings.

The Knights mostly rely on their defense, allowing 93.6 points per 100 possessions (26th in the country) on 45.5 effective field goal percentage (12th). They are playing at a slow pace, averaging 66.4 possessions per 40 minutes (305th). On the other side of the ball, the Knights are scoring 110.6 points per 100 possessions (48th) on 52.7 effective field goal percentage (87th) and 35.4% shooting from downtown (114th). UCF’s strength of schedule was 77th in the country, and the Knights have a couple of seniors who add depth to their roster. The guard B.J. Taylor is the first scoring option, tallying 16.0 points per game, while the big man Tacko Fall is posting 10.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per contest. The junior guard Terrell Allen is another vital member of the Knights’ rotation who’s averaging 6.8 points and 4.3 assists per game, while another junior Aubrey Dawkins is adding 15.2 points and 5.0 boards per outing.

UCF will be looking for its first Big Dance win, as the Knights are 0-4 straight up in their four appearances. In its previous partaking in 2005, UCF lost to the No. 2 seed UConn Huskies 77-71 as an 18-point underdog.

The VCU Rams won the Atlantic 10 regular-season title with a 16-2 record in the conference play and 25-7 overall, but the Rams disappointed their fans at the A 10 championship tournament, losing to Rhode Island 75-70 in the quarterfinals to put an end to their 12-game winning streak. The Rams were 10-2 ATS during their streak, finishing the regular season as a No. 34 at the NCAA NET Rankings, enough to earn the invitation for the Big Dance.

The Rams’ defensive rating is the 3rd-best in the country, as VCU is surrendering just 87.2 points per 100 possessions on 43.0 effective field goal percentage (also 3rd in the country), while the Rams are allowing their opponents to make only 27.6% of their 3-pointers (2nd). On the other side, VCU is scoring 104.8 points per 100 possessions (147th) on 50.6 effective field goal percentage (174th) and 30.7% shooting from beyond the arc (330th). The Rams’ strength of schedule was 115th in the country, and they had a couple of nice wins over Texas and Temple in their non-conference play, while losing at Virginia 57-49. The junior guard Marcus Evans is leading the way for VCU, averaging 13.8 points, 3.2 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. The sophomore PF Marcus Santos-Silva is a key guy in the paint, posting 10.1 points per contest on 59.7% shooting from the field along with 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.

VCU has appeared in 16 NCAA Tournaments so far, recording 13 wins and 16 losses. The Rams reached the Final Four in 2011, but they couldn’t make it to Sweet Sixteen since then. VCU is 1-3 straight up in its last four first-round matchups, while the Rams have never met the No. 9 seed.

Pick: VCU Rams +1

This should be one of the most interesting matchups of the first round, as two talented and defensive-minded teams will try to find their offensive rhythm and reach the second round. Also, both UCF and VCU suffered an early exit from their conference tournaments, so this is the perfect opportunity for a redemption song. Maybe the best wager is to take the under, despite very low chalk, as this should be a proper low-scoring affair. The under has hit in UCF’s last four outings and in three of VCU’s last four games. When it comes to the side bet, I’m backing the Rams, as they’ve won 12 of their last 13 outings and six of their last seven games away from home, while the Knights have lost five of their previous 13 contests and three of their last six road games. It’s a tricky wager, but I think the Rams’ D will do a better job than the Knights’.

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