Saturday's round of 32 games in the NCAA tournament will host several matchups that could decide the Final Four, but none will rival the impending showdown between the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines and the No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth Rams.
Without giving anything away, this could be the game of the tournament.
Both teams are coming off impressive wins in the round of 64. Michigan shut down South Dakota State guard Nate Wolters en route to a 15-point win over the upstart Jackrabbits, while VCU completely dominated the depleted Akron Zips en route to doubling-up its opponent in the 88-42 win.
Scoring, defense and stars—this game has it all.
Big Ten Player of the Year and Wooden Award candidate Trey Burke leads the Wolverines into battle, but his battery mates Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr. were the ones that contributed the most in the second-round win over South Dakota State, each scoring 21 points and combining for eight three-pointers.
The Rams' patented brand of "havoc" defense was at it again on Thursday, forcing 21 turnovers and picking up 11 steals—both numbers that fall right around VCU's season averages. The Rams gained the lead early and never let their foot off the gas, closing out the Zips before any of the fans could blink.
In what's certain to be a heated, high-flying game in Michigan's home state, we've got you covered with all the pre-game information that you need to know before two of college basketball's best get going on Saturday afternoon.
Where: The Palace at Auburn Hills; Auburn Hills, Mich.
When: Saturday, March 23, at noon ET
Live Stream: March Madness On Demand
Betting Line: Michigan -2.5 (via SportsBook)
Michigan Injuries (via USA Today): None
VCU Injuries (via USA Today): None
What's At Stake?
A berth to the Sweet 16 is on the line, and many feel that the winner of this game is going to go all the way to the Final Four. A Friday morning conversation between Pete Thamel and Dan Duggan insinuated the same thought process on Twitter:
Winner to the FF. RT @dduggan21: Looking ahead, that VCU-Michigan came has the potential to one of the best games of the tournament.— Pete Thamel(@SIPeteThamel) March 22, 2013
While the Rams come in a 2.5-point underdog, they are in no way a true Cinderella team when facing Michigan. VCU has an impressive tournament resume, and has wins over Memphis, Belmont and Butler to prove it can contend with anyone in the country.
On the flip side, Michigan completed a rough-and-tough Big Ten schedule and still earned a No. 4 seed in the tournament, showing how highly the selection committee feels about the conference and the talent that Michigan employs from game to game.
One thing is for sure—Spike Lee will be watching. The Fab Five might be disappointed in his choice of support:
Michigan Wolverines Are Up Next Vs. VCU. It Will Be A Hostile Crowd,Home Game For The Maize But HAVOC TRAVELS.Dat's Da "Shaka Can"Truth,Ruth— Spike Lee (@SpikeLee) March 22, 2013
In front of Michigan faithful in Auburn Hills, it's going to be a heated atmosphere on Saturday afternoon. The road will be paved for both to stake claim for a trip to Atlanta and the Final Four, but they have to knock off each other, first.
Players to Watch:
Michigan: F Mitch McGary
McGary got the start on Thursday and didn't disappoint. The freshman, who has vied for a spot in the starting lineup all season, finished with 13 points and nine rebounds for the Wolverines on Thursday night.
He consistently out-hustled the Jackrabbits up the court, making things easy on guys like Hardaway and Robinson because the defense was forced to collapse early on, opening up passing lanes for Burke to collect his seven assists to Michigan shooters.
He also collected three offensive rebounds in the game against South Dakota State, showing a great nose for the ball off the rim and consistently outworking the competition to get Michigan another shot. If you're a fan of the Big Blue, you have to love what McGary did on Thursday night.
There's a good chance he'll have to do it again on Saturday, especially since the start would likely pit him against Rams forward Juvonte Reddic, who had 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting in VCU's opening-round win over Akron.
McGary is up for the challenge, but that matchup could quietly decide this game.
VCU: G Troy Daniels
Daniels was the big man on campus for the Rams on Thursday night, hitting six three-pointers and scoring a team-high 23 points.
He, along with VCU leading scorer Treveon Graham, will draw the full attention of the Michigan defense on Saturday afternoon. Much like Michigan did with South Dakota State guard Wolters, the Wolverines could choose to use Robinson on the hot hand to add a little more length to the defense.
Burke will also likely get his fair share of time against Daniels, especially after Michigan has a chance to review the game tape from VCU's win over Akron. Six three-pointers are no joke for anyone, and that could make Daniels a name to watch in both transition and off penetration on Saturday afternoon.
VCU Defense vs. Michigan Three-Point Shooting
Michigan shot 45 percent (9-of-20) against South Dakota State from the three-point line. Granted, Hardaway Jr. and Robinson combined for eight of them, but that's an impressive mark for any team and makes defense incredibly difficult.
VCU, though, limited Akron to 7.7 percent (1-of-13) shooting from behind the arc, a number that only compounded an already tough day on offense for the Zips.
For both sides, three-point shooting is the key.
VCU also shot over 45 percent (8-of-16) from behind the arc on Thursday, forcing Michigan's defense to respond to that threat, too. However, Michigan got back in the game and extended the lead by using the three-ball, especially off of offensive rebounds, and that phase of the game will be key in keeping Michigan at bay and under the foot of the "havoc" defense that Shaka Smart employs.
Boy, this one is going to be tough.
Which team moves on in your bracket?
It's hard not to respect the star-power and future NBA talent that Michigan brings into this game. In my opinion, the Wolverines rival any school in the country with their recruiting efforts over the past couple of year, and that has led to continued success.
You also can't ignore a defense that gets 11.8 steals per game and doubles up an opponent in the previous round. VCU has the defensive chops to shut down any offense, including one that has the multiple options that Michigan.
I'm not sure the Wolverines can survived another six-point performance from Burke again. For that reason, I'm giving the edge in this one to the Rams, who will bring the havoc and stress to the nation yet again that the Atlantic 10 is the best conference in basketball this season—not the Big Ten.
VCU 78, Michigan 70
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