ALBANY, N.Y. -- Sixty-four teams remained in this year's NCAA Men's Basketball tournament Thursday morning, and according to St. Mary's head coach Randy Bennett, they all had one thing in common.
"There's no bums in this thing" Bennett said. "It's really hard to get in."
Bennett is one of the many who are ignoring the seeding heading into the 2023 tournament. His Gaels are the 5 seed taking on 12th seeded VCU Friday afternoon at 2 p.m., but those numbers hide statistics that universally show this to potentially be a very close game.
"They're really good defensively," Bennett said of the Rams. "They have a great tradition as a program."
Both VCU and St. Mary's average 71.4 points per game, but how they get there is a little different. The Rams average 70 possessions per game while the Gaels average just under 66, making them a tad more efficient. St. Mary's shoots slightly better from behind the arc (37.2%-34.7%) and turns the ball over less (10.7 vs. 13.4) reminding the Rams of A-10 rival Davidson in both their style and their discipline.
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"Davidson is very disciplined and St. Mary's is as well," said Rams sophomore guard Jayden Nunn. "What we did (vs. Davidson) is just pressured the ball and made chaos with our defense. I feel like that's going to help us (Friday)."
"They run a different offense than Davidson, but they are deliberate in getting the shot they want," added VCU head coach Mike Rhoades. "We've got to pressure and we've got to play full court. And we need to get a great shot down every time against them."
The Gaels are rated higher in both offensive and defensive efficiency according to KenPom statistics and they've had teams try to speed them up all season.
"We have a lot of rough and tough teams in our conference that want to get up and down," said St. Mary's senior guard Logan Johnson. "You can't try to do something now different than what you've been going against all year."
Both teams struck that familiar chord: doing exactly what they've been doing all season to extend it for at least one more game.
"We play our brand of basketball," Johnson said. "That usually wins at the end of the day."
"Play outside the play, be aggressive on defense, and just do what we do," said VCU guard Ace Baldwin.
"We understand that some possessions will be long," Rhoades added. "That's where you have to have great discipline."
VCU and St. Mary's have met just once before, an 85-77 win for the Gaels in the 2017 NCAA tournament that was the last game at VCU for former head coach Will Wade.
VCU and St. Mary's tip off at 2 p.m. Friday on TBS.
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