10 seed Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) (24-10, 14-4 in the Atlantic 10) vs. 7 seed Oregon State (19-2, 9-9 in the Pac-12) / Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma / 12:27 PM CDT (10:27 AM PDT) / TNT / KEJO 1240 AM / KEX 1190 AM
Oregon State returns to the NCAA Tournament today. It's the Beavers' 17th appearance in the big tournament, but also their first time in 26 years. They are in Oklahoma City, and a part of the West Region. The Beavers earned a 7 seed with multiple wins against Top 50 RPI opponents, and a 7-8 record against NCAA Tournament opponents, including wins over West 1-seed Oregon, California, Colorado, USC and Utah in Pac-12 play, as well as Iona & Tulsa, and a tie for 6th in the Pac-12, which sent a record 7 teams to the Tournament.
Oregon State's first round opponent is Virginia Commonwealth, aka VCU. The Rams came to national fame with NCAA Tournament runs under then coach Shaka Smart, who parlayed that success into the head coaching job at Texas (and he's in Oklahoma City too, with his Longhorns, a part of another block of 4 teams in the West region), but didn't fall off after Smart's departure.
VCU finished in a 3 way tie for first in the 14 team Atlantic 10 Conference, with NCAA Tournament participant Dayton and NIT bound St. Bonaventure. The Rams then reached the A-10 Conference Tournament title game, where they lost to St. Joseph's 87-74.
The Rams are an uncommon opponent for the Beavers, one they have never met before.
It's an uncommon matchup, sizewise as well, as the Rams have only 1 starter taller than 6'4", Alie Cox, and he's just 6'7". Both Drew Eubanks and Olaf Schaftenaar are 6'10".
For the Beavers, the Tournament trip is the culmination of the Payton saga. as Gary Payton II has led Oregon State to the NCAAs for the first time since his father, Gary Payton "I" did it with that 1990 team.
It's been even a lot longer since the Beavers got an NCAA Tournament win, all the way back in 1982, 34 years ago, to the day, against Idaho, when Oregon State reached the Elite 8.
It's not new territory for 2nd year Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle though; he took Montana to the tournament 3 times.
The Beavers will be without freshman guard Tres Tinkle though. Oregon State's second leading scorer suffered an foot injury the day prior to the opening of the regular season ending series in LA, and also missed last week's Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
VCU opened as a 3 point favorite, and some lines have advanced the Rams to as much as a 4 1/2 point line, though that could be to encourage betting traffic on the Beavers as much as anything.
The Rams expect to have their leader, senior guard Melvin Johnson, who also had an ankle injury, back, and first year VCU head coach Will Wade projects Johnson to be at at least 95%. Johnson averages 17.4 points per game, and only 2 other Rams average in double digits, none above 11.6.
Also of note, VCU is 8th in the nation in turnover margin.
The winner will advance to play on Sunday the winner of the game that follows this one in Oklahoma City, between 2 seed (and essentially home town) Oklahoma and 15 seed Cal State Bakersfield.