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Preview: Akron vs. VCU

Preview: Akron vs. VCU

Fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth will take on No. 12 Akron on Thursday in an NCAA Tournament second-round South Regional matchup in Auburn Hills, Mich. The Rams lost to St. Louis 62-56 in the Atlantic-10 tournament final Sunday, but will head to their third straight Big Dance. The teams had a memorable meeting Dec. 29, 2011, when Akron led by as many as 20 points and 12 in the second half before the Rams forced overtime. Darius Theus' layup with one second remaining gave VCU a 76-75 victory.

Akron avenged its MAC tournament championship game loss to Ohio last year with a 65-46 victory in this year's final. The Zips reeled off 19 consecutive wins before starting point guard Alex Abreu (10.3 points, 6.0 assists) was suspended indefinitely March 6 following his arrest for suspected marijuana trafficking. Akron lost two of its last three regular-season games prior to the MAC tournament, but recovered to punch its ticket to its third NCAA Tournament in five years. The Zips have never won an NCAA game. Seven-foot senior Zeke Marshall paces Akron with 13 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.7 blocks on 65.4 percent shooting.

TV: 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS

ABOUT VCU (26-8): After the Rams won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament last year, coach Shaka Smart and Co. brought their "havoc" defense to the A-10 and lead the nation at 11.9 steals per game. Virginia Commonwealth's pressure defense and up-tempo style have also resulted in the Rams becoming the 11th-best scoring team in the country (78 points), with four players averaging double digits. Treveon Graham (15.4 points) logged 20 points and 12 rebounds against the Billikens and has 17 or more points in four of his last five games. Juvonte Reddic (14.4 points, 8.3 rebounds), Troy Daniels (12.5 points), and Rob Brandenberg (10.6) have also played key roles in the Rams' success.

ABOUT AKRON (26-6): The depleted Zips can hang with VCU offensively, averaging 72.7 points on 45.7 percent shooting. And defensively, they have held 10 of their last 11 opponents to 67 points or less. Marshall, who shoots better from the field than the foul line (64.3 percent), has scored in double figures and grabbed at least six boards in each of his last nine games. Demetrius Treadwell (11.4 points, 7.9 rebounds) will need to be sharp as well.

TIP-INS:

  1. Theus scored four points on 1-of-6 shooting against St. Louis.

  2. After reaching the Final Four in 2011, VCU knocked off No. 5 Wichita State 62-59 as a No. 12 seed last year before pushing No. 4 Indiana in a 63-61 loss.

  3. Abreu is also Akron's leading free-throw shooter at 81 percent.

PREDICTION: VCU 71, Akron 66