Lon Kruger and the Sooners hope to punch their Sweet 16 ticket with a win over the Rams
Now VCU is a step closer to reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011 when it reached the Final Four for the first time. The Rams face a stiff challenge with Oklahoma. Few teams can match the Sooners when it comes to producing an efficient and explosive offense.
Oklahoma averages 80.4 points per game. The Sooners shot 55 percent from 3-point range in an 82-68 first round victory over CSU Bakersfield. They average 43 percent shooting from the perimeter per game this season.
No. 10 VCU Rams (25-10) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners (26-7)
When: 5:15 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City)
Line: Oklahoma – 6.5
Keys for VCU
Lewis needs a big game
When JeQuan Lewis is at his peak, so are the Rams. Lewis had a fine performance against Oregon State, scoring 21 points, dishing out eight assists and collecting seven rebounds. He has a knack for turning the ball over too much under pressure. But when Lewis stays composed and limits his mistakes, VCU can punish teams with efficient offense and aggressive defense.
Blanket the perimeter
Oklahoma is a team that can shoot opponents out of a game in a hurry. That outside punch is what makes the Sooner offense so powerful and fun to watch. VCU needs to aggressively guard the perimeter and force Oklahoma to work the clock so the Sooners can't get into an early rhythm with outside shots.
Keys for Oklahoma
Get Hield some help
Buddy Hield makes creating amazing plays seem as normal for him as taking a free throw. Hield averages 25 points per game and has scored at least 30 points 10 times this season. He had 27 points against the Roadrunners on Friday. But Hield can't be expected to carry the team alone. When he struggles, the Sooners become vulnerable against almost any opponent. Players like Ryan Spangler, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard need to step up and provide an extra offensive punch against VCU.
Take care of the ball
Shooting well isn't the only thing that will lift Oklahoma against VCU. The Sooners will have to guard against the Rams getting into passing lanes and getting their hands on the ball. It could be easier said than done. VCU averaged 8.6 steals per game in Atlantic 10 play, a number that led the conference.
Oklahoma faces a VCU team that can generate more than enough defensive pressure to make things uncomfortable for the Sooners for 40 minutes. That can turn into a problem for Oklahoma, since it relies heavily on its perimeter game to bury opponents. The Sooners need to step up inside and take pressure off outside shooters if they wish to make it to the Sweet 16.
Prediction: VCU 73, Oklahoma 70
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.