Breathe, Ram fans. We’re in the tournament!
After a relatively stressful Sunday afternoon, VCU earned a 10 seed in the west region in the NCAA tournament. The Rams will take on 7 seed Oregon State Beavers in Oklahoma City in the first round. Tip off is set for 1:30 pm on Friday.
Oregon State is led by guard Gary Payton II, the son of NBA legend Gary Payton. The younger Payton averages 15.9 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, and 5.1 assists per game. Coach Will Wade on Tuesday noted that VCU hit the film room to get ready to face Payton and the Beavers . “We’ve buried our head in films. Gary Peyton is really good and his son, GP2 as they call him, is tremendous. He makes them go, plays at different tempos, a really good player,” he said.
To sum it up, Payton is a playmaker. VCU must make stopping him a focus defensively, and it will take a team effort to do it.
Payton is 6’3, and 175 pounds of pure athleticism. The most likely Ram to guard him will be Korey Billbury, who matches up well with Payton’s size. Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman will also be critical in slowing Payton down when he gets to the rim with their shot-blocking abilities.
Freshman forward Tres Tinkle is another difference-maker for the Beavers. However, his status is currently up in the air after injuring his ankle a few weeks ago. Tinkle is 6’8 and averages 13.1 points per game. Tillman or Mo would likely match up with him in the post.
Offensively, VCU must drive in the paint and get the Beavers in foul trouble. They are not tremendously deep, so getting some early fouls on their starters could be crucial. Oregon State also struggles to rebound the ball well, so Tillman, Mo, and Billbury must be aggressive and attack the glass both offensively and defensively.
The health of Melvin Johnson will also be worth monitoring for the Rams, as he was slowed during the final two games of the A-10 tournament due to an ankle injury. If he is at 100%, he could be a matchup nightmare for the Beavers with his inside-outside scoring ability. Wade called the break between the A-1o tournament games and Friday’s game “very, very beneficial,” as it allows the Rams time to rest and receive treatment. “We needed the break bad,” he said. “Thursday would have been fine, but Friday is even better.”
The Rams took off to Oklahoma City on Wednesday, with Korey Billbury, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, even tweeting his shock and excitement about the police escort they received to the airport. Wade called the fact that Billbury gets to play in his first NCAA tournament in his home state “poetic justice” for the senior guard.
There’s no doubt about it, the Rams and Ram fans couldn’t be more excited to be back in the tournament. “Our guys are excited, you can’t ever take it for granted,” Wade said.
Be sure to tune in to TNT on Friday at 1:30 to cheer on the Rams, and follow @RamsReview on Twitter and Instagram for a look at all the action in Oklahoma City.
– Gabe Hauari