Wichita State center Garrett Stutz will be a challenging matchup for VCU Thursday.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Wichita State has not played since it was upset by Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Tournament semifinals on March 3. Despite the 12-day layoff, the Shockers didn’t seem too worried about coming out rusty on Thursday against VCU.

“We’ve been practicing hard,” said WSU senior Garrett Stutz, who is averaging team highs of 13.5 points and 8.0 rebounds. “We ended up calling some refs Saturday. We did an inter-squad scrimmage. The coaches haven’t let up, they haven’t taken it easy on us. Although it’s been a long time between games, I would expect the team to go about their business just like they’ve been doing.”

STUTZ RISES UP
One of the most significant differences between last year’s Wichita State squad and this season’s is the improved play of 7-foot center Garrett Stutz.

Stutz has practically doubled his production of 7.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game last year to team-bests of 13.5 points and 8.0 boards. The big reason for Stutz’s emergence is simply opportunity. Prior to this season, the Kansas City native’s minutes were limited by his foul-prone nature. Stutz averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game last season.

But in 2011-12, Stutz is averaging nearly 25 minutes a game because he’s managed to stay out of foul trouble. In 37 games last season, he committed 76 personal fouls. In 31 contests this year, Stutz, has racked up 79 fouls, despite nearly doubling his minutes.

“He’s always been very productive in his minutes,” explained Wichita State Head Coach Gregg Marshall during Wednesday’s press conference. “I bet if you divide up his 1,000-plus points by how many minutes he’s played, it’s going to be pretty high.”

If Stutz is on the floor, VCU will have to respect his size, not to mention his 56-percent shooting from the field and 32 blocked shots. The Rams can use their own 7-footer, sophomore D.J. Haley, to combat Stutz, more often than not, it will be 6-foot-9 sophomore Juvonte Reddic attempting to lock down Wichita State’s star.

QUOTES OF NOTE
“They’ve been playing at a high level all season. They’ve been in the top 25. They’re well coached. They have experience. They have a great group of seniors who are playing at a high level. They’re battle tested. They’ve been through all phases of the game and they’ll be ready tomorrow, just like we will.” – VCU senior Bradford Burgess on Wichita State.

“We’ve just got to do a good job overall defensively taking away their strengths. You can’t always take everything away, but our team, when we’re really locked in, does a nice job of following the scouting report and taking away at least the team’s first option.” – Shaka Smart on defending Wichita State.

“It was a great learning experience for me as a young coach. And when I think last March did was it really exposed me to a lot of different coaching styles, a lot of different situations that we encountered that we found challenging, but we found a way to overcome. We found a way to win five NCAA Tournament games. I think any time you get stretched like that you grow.” – Smart on the NCAA Tournament last season.

FAST FACTS

  • Bradford Burgess will be suiting up in his eighth career NCAA Tournament game Thursday, more than any player in VCU history.
  • Wichita State ranks third nationally in scoring margin (15.3 ppg). The Shockers are also ranked in the top 20 in scoring offense (77.7 ppg), field goal percentage (.485), defensive field goal percentage (.392) and rebounding margin (+6.7 rpg).
  • This will be VCU’s 11th NCAA Tournament appearance. The Rams are 10-10 all time. Wichita State is appearing in the tournament for the ninth time and first since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2006. The Shockers are 8-9 in NCAA Tournament games.
  • VCU and Wichita State share three common opponents, with similar results. Both defeated Northern Iowa and UAB, while both teams lost to Alabama this season.
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