WICHITA STATE LOSS REVEALS LESSONS FOR VCU

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Darius Theus provided 15 points, including a late, game-tying 3-pointer, but it wasn’t enough to carry the day for VCU Tuesday.

RICHMOND, Va. – If VCU learned anything in Tuesday night’s nail-biting 53-51 loss to Wichita State, it’s that the Rams are not yet a finished product.

Look, the Shockers deserved to win. They suffocated VCU with intense, post-season quality defense in an intense, post-season quality match-up. There were fewer open looks at the basket than there are music videos on MTV these days. The Rams were frustrated on offense. Wichita State outscored VCU (1-1) in the paint 30-12 and neutralized its “Havoc” defense. The Shockers (2-0) turned the ball over just 13 times, and the Rams scored just nine points off those miscues, an area critical to their success.

“I give Wichita State a lot of credit. They came in here and battled. They hung in there throughout the game and did a good job dealing with the crowd and the press. They were ready to go and they were certainly not scared,” said VCU Coach Shaka Smart.

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VCU-NORTHERN IOWA RAPID REACTION

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Darius Theus scored seven of his nine points, including all three of his field goals, in the final five minutes Friday.

RICHMOND, Va. – In one of its final chances to impress the NCAA selection committee, VCU wore down a sharpshooting Northern Iowa team and grabbed a 77-68 Sears BracketBusters victory Friday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

Despite torrid shooting from the Panthers in the first half, VCU Coach Shaka Smart stuck to his guns defensively and waited for the Rams’ style of play to win out. At first, it looked like Smart’s gamble, which had the Rams ratcheting up their defensive aggressiveness, might prove costly. The Panthers hit 7-of-10 threes in the first half, and nine of their first 13 attempts. But UNI missed its last four from outside and the cumulative effect of 19 turnovers shifted the game back towards VCU.

With five minutes left, the Rams took over. Three days removed from a heartbreaking, buzzer-beating loss at George Mason in which they were unable to shake the Patriots late, VCU turned a 64-62 lead into a nine point win.

“We knew it was a risk to be as aggressive as we were, and they made us pay in the first half, but we thought over the course of 40 minutes out style of play would benefit us and win out and tire them out to some extent and in the second half I think it did,” Smart said.

Despite shooting 56 percent (25-of-45) for the game, Northern Iowa could only manage 24 points in the second half. Then again, it’s tough to score when you don’t have the ball.

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BRACKETBUSTERS THOUGHTS

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“Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.” – Michael Corleone.

RICHMOND, Va. – From its inception, I was drinking the BracketBusters Kool-Aid.

I thought it was a novel idea that would, No. 1, provide “mid-major” schools with an opportunity to boost their at-large resumes. No. 2, I assumed it would showcase some of the more underrated college basketball programs on national TV.

But after the Nevada insane travel fiasco of 2009 and the wildly underwhelming selection of Akron in 2010 (and 2008, if you want to get technical about it), I told myself I had had enough. I had given up on the event being relevant enough to sway NCAA favor, and I doubted that ESPN had VCU’s –or any school’s – best interest at heart.

However, last year’s pitch-perfect selection of Wichita State, and the resume muscle a win over the Shockers provided last year, had me warming to the event again.

On Monday, in front of a pseudo-national audience on ESPNU (“We’re better than the Ocho!”), VCU was handed a matchup with Missouri Valley Conference foe Northern Iowa (14-9) on Friday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Arena, a game that will be televised on ESPN2.

It’s a great draw for VCU for a couple of reasons. No. 1, the Panthers’ RPI of 57 allows the Rams a much-needed shot at a top-100 win. VCU currently has two top 100 victories this year (Akron, South Florida). It had eight last year.  No. 2, the Rams, ranked 84th in RPI, earn a return game in two years with a Northern Iowa program that is on solid footing. VCU can expect a game that won’t damage its RPI in 2013-14.

Andy Katz of ESPN argued that VCU should’ve drawn a more favorable pairing, but I just don’t see how that was possible. Only Nevada (59), ranked slightly below Northern Iowa, was even a remote possibility. Katz expressed concern over Northern Iowa’s 4-7 league record, a perfectly valid complaint, but honestly, this is the best possible RPI matchup available for the Rams. VCU had the 11th-best RPI among BracketBusters home teams this year, while Northern Iowa was ranked fourth among road teams. VCU also had conflicts with Akron (58) and Drexel (87) that made those matchups impossible.

VCU has fared well in this event, but clearly, the Rams’ Final Four run last season made them a desirable TV matchup.

The Panthers are a volatile draw for the Rams. UNI began the season on a 10-1 tear, but is 4-8 in its last 12 games. VCU not only needs to beat Northern Iowa, its needs the Panthers’ RPI to remain strong throughout the end of the season.

Coached by Ben Jacobson, the Panthers are led by junior guard Anthony James (13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and 6-foot-9 junior forward Jake Koch (10.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg). UNI has made five NCAA Tournament appearances since 2004, including a Sweet 16 berth in 2010.

All things considered, this is a great matchup for VCU. The Kool-Aid tastes good again.

VCU: ESPNU BRACKETBUSTERS HISTORY
Feb. 19, 2005: Charleston 85, VCU 75
Feb. 17, 2006: VCU 70, Albany 67 (ESPNU)
Feb. 17, 2007: Bradley 73, VCU 64 (ESPN2)
Feb. 23, 2008: VCU 57, Akron 52 (ESPN2)
Feb. 20, 2009: Nevada 71, VCU 70 (ESPNU)
Feb. 20, 2010: VCU 70, Akron 53 (ESPNU)
Feb. 18, 2011: VCU 68, Wichita State 67 (ESPN2)
Feb. 17, 2012: VCU vs. Northern Iowa (ESPN2)

Home team in BOLD

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