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.”