Auburn Hills — Virginia Commonwealth easily did what it does best — wreak havoc — against a weakened Akron team in a second-round NCAA Tournament game at the Palace.
The Rams defeated Akron, 88-42, at The Palace in the late game Thursday. VCU will play Michigan, a winner over South Dakota State, in a third-round game 12:15 p.m. Saturday.
Akron wasn't even close to full strength for its second-round game. Two players — starter Brian Walsh and Pat Forsythe — were suffering from the flu, with Walsh having to be rushed to the emergency room Wednesday night and getting to sleep at 7 a.m. the day of the game. One freshman, Deju Ibitayo, was out with back spasms. Earlier this month, starting point guard Alex Abreu was suspended after an arrest.
"Our misfortune was his gain," Akron coach Keith Dambrot said of VCU coach Shaka Smart, who had worked on Dambrot's Zips staff. "This is a big-boys' game, sometimes you have to take a butt-whipping."
VCU's 46-point victory was the largest ever in the NCAA Tournament by a team not seeded 1 or 2.
The Rams (27-8) dominated the first half against the Mid-American Conference champions, 50-25. The Rams shot 61 percent from the field in that half and 53.8 percent for the game.
Under Smart, VCU is known for is its "havoc" defense. It is about speed and full-court pressure. They do not hesitate to bring the full-court press early, and they go all out aggressively pressuring ballhandlers. This translates to VCU creating problems for opposing offenses.
VCU entered its game against Akron leading the country in turnover margin and in steals per game. The Rams were dominant in those categories against Akron. They had 11 steals and led in turnover margin, 22-7.
Four players scored in double-figures for the Rams, including Tony Daniels, who led all scorers with 23 points and Juvonte Reddic who had 21. The Rams entered the game with one of the nation's top-15 scoring offenses, averaging 77.3 points a game, and clearly were well above that average against the Zips.
Smart is in his fourth season with the Rams and knows NCAA Tournament success. He led VCU to an unlikely Final Four appearance in 2011. The Rams will be facing Michigan, which is 27-7 after advancing with a 71-56 victory over South Dakota State.
There was a decided home-court advantage for Michigan against South Dakota State with a strong contingent of U-M fans. Smart is anticipating a similar atmosphere for the third-round meeting with the Wolverines.
"I'm not going to enjoy this win at all," Smart said in the week hours of Friday morning after the Rams' victory. "This is what we wanted to do, we won, we're turning the page.
"It's all about Michigan (now). That's what we live for. We don't live for the afterglow of a win. We live for the process, the journey. It will be a road game. We love that. We're fired up about that opportunity."