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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SCOUTING REPORT: WICHITA STATE

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Wichita State (Nov. 13, 2012 – ESPNU)
2011-12 record:
27-6 (16-2 MVC)
2011-12 RPI: 18
Guy to heckle: Carl Hall, Sr., F (8.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, .572 FG in 2011-12)

The skinny: It’s going to be hard to top the edge-of-your-seat thrills VCU and Wichita State delivered the last two seasons, but it’s worth a shot.

In 2011, a pair of Joey Rodriguez free throws with .8 seconds left gave VCU a 68-67 BracketBusters win in Wichita. Last March, a Darius Theus floater in the waning moments helped secure a 62-59 Rams’ victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Portland, Ore. The Shockers are going to feel like they have a score to settle.

But the team VCU will meet this year bears little resemblance to the one from March. Wichita State (1-0) graduated its top five scorers. There’s still talent, however. The Shockers were picked to finish fourth in the highly competitive Missouri Valley Conference and return bruising forward Carl Hall, who gave the Rams fits in Portland.

The Shockers opened their 2011-12 season Friday with a 71-57 win over North Carolina Central. As expected, Hall led the way with 17 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. He’ll be a real test for VCU’s bigs. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman guard Ron Baker knocked down 4-of-7 three-pointers on the way to 18 points. The rest of the team was 2-of-12 from three. The game was similar to VCU’s season-opening performance in that the Shockers ran out to a big first half lead before sagging in the second.

One game does not a season make, however, and there’s still an unknown quality to Wichita State. Its starting lineup Saturday featured Hall, Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead, Baker (a freshman) and two guys that averaged fewer than two points per game last season in Evan Wessel and Ehimen Orukpe.

Quick hitters: Troy Daniels and Darius Theus were a combined 9-of-15 against Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament last year… Wichita State was 10-1 on the road last season… Hall hit 4-of-7 from the field and finished with 10 points and eight rebounds against VCU in the NCAA Tournament last year.

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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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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LAST SEASON COULD INFLUENCE THIS YEAR’S RAMS-SHOCKERS TILT

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Bradford Burgess scored 17 points in a 68-67 win over Wichita State last season.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The calendar says 2012, but 2011 will have a heavy influence on VCU’s NCAA Tournament second round match-up with Wichita State.

The Rams and Shockers were paired together during last season’s BracketBusters contest, won 68-67 by VCU. The victory likely sent the Rams to the NCAA Tournament, where they plowed through the field on the way to the Final Four. The Shockers, meanwhile, were relegated to the NIT, but pulled together and won championship over Alabama.

Although many of the stars from last year are gone, especially in VCU’s case, the players that do return have invaluable tournament experience.

“I think the fact that we do have several guys on our team that have played in six NCAA Tournament games and won five of them is something we can really draw on,” said VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart. “They know that there’s going to be some nerves early on. There just is when you’re playing in the NCAA Tournament. I think they can help our younger guys that haven’t been here.”

In addition to their familiarity with tournament play, these two teams are familiar with each other. For one, Wichita State hasn’t forgotten that 1-point defeat at the hands of VCU.

“It’s something that’s been in the back of our minds for a long time now,” Shockers’ center Garrett Stutz said. “They were a great team last year, and when they beat us, that kind of gave them momentum into their NCAA Tournament run. So, there’s definitely still some…I wouldn’t call it rivalry, but still some motivation for us.”

It’s not just motivation for Wichita State. The Shockers also have a game against VCU’s “Havoc” defense under their belt. In the past, VCU has played particularly well against teams that weren’t familiar or had little time to prepare for their system. Teams that press as much as VCU does are rare, giving opponents few chances to see swarming full court pressure. The Rams won’t have the element of surprise Thursday.

“That definitely helps because we played them last year,” said WSU senior Joe Ragland. “We played them and played them real tough.”

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