Rhode Island made sure they were guaranteed entry into the 2017 NCAA tournament on Sunday as the Rams took down VCU, 70-63, to claim the Atlantic 10 Tournament title.
By nailing down the automatic bid, Rhode Island not only assures themselves a bid into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999 but they also won’t have to play in a First Four game in Dayton since they won’t be an at-large team just barely entering the field.
The Rams (24-9) never trailed on Sunday as they claimed their eighth consecutive victory by beating VCU for the second time this season. One of the hotter teams in the country entering the NCAA tournament, Rhode Island was led by 20 points from guard Jared Terrell while guard E.C. Matthews added 19 points, including a huge bucket to make it a two-possession game with under a minute left. Hassan Martin also finished with 11 points for the Rams.
Since they were potentially the last at-large team in the field if they had lost, Rhode Island’s win likely keeps teams like USC and Illinois State out of the NCAA tournament based on the consensus opinion of bracketologists. Now that the Rams don’t have to play in a First Four game as one of the last four at-large teams they’re also a potentially dangerous double-digit seed that not a lot of teams are going to want to play.
Terrell and Matthews are one of the better backcourts in the field (especially for a double-digit seed) and Martin and Kuran Iverson are solid options up front. With a veteran point guard in Jarvis Garrett, this team is going to be a tough out.
While Rhode Island hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in the 2000s this group did gain some postseason experience by playing in the NIT in 2015.
VCU (26-8) is still safely in the NCAA tournament as the Atlantic 10 will now have three teams in the field. The Rams only shot 32 percent from the field but they were able to stay in the game by pounding the offensive glass (23 offensive rebounds) and forcing some late turnovers using their trademark Havoc defense.
JeQuan Lewis led VCU with 15 points while forward Justin Tillman finished with 10 points and 17 rebounds. As a probably 7-through-10 seed, the Rams are never fun to deal with in a postseason setting since not many teams press like they do.
It’ll be interesting to see who VCU draws in the field and it that press will be an advantage for them.