SWEET 16 SLIPS AWAY, BUT PLENTY LEFT FOR VCU TO HOLD ON TO

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Sophomore Rob Brandenberg helped VCU win a school-record 29 games in 2011-12. He scored 13 points Saturday.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Shaka Smart, one of the more well-read, media darlings in all of college basketball, seemed at a loss for words. When you’re a guy who can effortlessly quote Sun Tzu and Shakespeare, as Smart did this week, that’s hard to imagine.

But prior to his opening statement following VCU’s 63-61 loss to Indiana Saturday in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at the Rose Garden, Smart paused, contemplated, let out a big sigh and shook his head. The moment lasted 10, maybe 15 seconds, but it perfectly conveyed his state of mind better than anything he could have said.

This one hurt.

The Rams held a nine-point lead with 12:20 to play and a 61-56 advantage with less than two minutes remaining. But VCU, nearing another stunning NCAA Tournament victory, watched it slip away in a hail of missed jumpers and an unrelenting Hoosier squad. Indiana scored the final seven points of the game, while the Rams were 2-of-15 from the field, including 0-of-8 from three, in the final 12:20. After Rob Brandenberg’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer fell short, Smart was there to comfort, putting his arm around his sophomore guard as they walked back to the locker room.

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PEPPAS IN PORTLAND

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This video comes via Matt Norlander’s fantastic piece on the Peppas. You can find that here.

WHEN NCAA PREP TIME HAS BEEN SHORT, VCU HAS THRIVED

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PORTLAND, Ore. – You think VCU’s Havoc defense looks like a handful? Try preparing for it with less than two days notice. That’s the challenge for Indiana Coach Tom Crean and his staff.

VCU’s high-intensity full court press is hardly the norm in college basketball. A few notable teams run something similar, Missouri and Arkansas come to mind, but certainly no team in the Big Ten, where the Hoosiers reside, does. Other than its game against top-ranked Kentucky – a game IU won, it should be pointed out – did the Hoosiers face an up-tempo press like the Rams’. It’s that unfamiliarity that VCU hopes will keep the opposition guessing.

“There are a lot of reasons we play the way we play,” said VCU Coach Shaka Smart. “But one of the reasons we play that way is because it’s different from what teams are used to practicing in their own practices and playing against. In theory, our style is something that will be new for them tomorrow.”

VCU players agree that when the Rams have to face teams after a short turnaround, as in many NCAA Tournament games, Havoc comes in handy.

“I definitely think it’s an advantage,” sophomore Rob Brandenberg said. “It’s one thing to watch film, but it’s another to get on the floor and have game experience playing through the press and things like that.”

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FRIDAY PRESS CONFERENCE

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PHOTO OF THE DAY: WICHITA STATE

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You get the idea.

VIDEO: VCU UPSETS WICHITA STATE

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NEW-LOOK RAMS UP TO THEIR OLD TRICKS

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VCU limited Wichita State to 31 percent shooting in the first half of Thursday's NCAA Tournament win over Wichita State.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Remember VCU? The darlings of March are back.

Led by charismatic 34-year-old Coach Shaka Smart, VCU scored the biggest upset of the first day of the NCAA Tournament with Thursday’s 62-59 defeat of fifth-seeded Wichita State at the Rose Garden.

A year removed from a stunning Final Four run, perhaps the most unlikely ever, VCU stole the show again. Last year doesn’t feel so long ago anymore. But while the uniforms are still black and gold and still read VCU on the front, these aren’t last year’s Rams. This team has been determined to leave its own mark. Thursday will go a long way towards that end.

Seeded 12th in the South Region, the Rams (29-6) toppled another single-digit seed, a feat they accomplished three times in 2011, but did it in their own way.

Last year’s squad featured an arsenal of 3-point bombardiers in Jamie Skeen, Ed Nixon, Joey Rodriguez and Brandon Rozzell. That team plowed through the field with offense. Thursday, as the Rams have done all year, VCU ground out an upset victory with unrelenting defense and timely shot making.

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PHOTO(S) OF THE DAY: IRON MAN

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Athletic Trainer Eddie Benion did the the Iron Man Drill at Wednesday’s NCAA open practice. It was worthwhile.

VIDEO: NCAA OPEN PRACTICE AND PRESSERS

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OTHER NOTABLES/QUOTABLES

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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.

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