Wichita State looks to emulate VCU, by winning

Because of VCU’s unexpected ride in the NCAA tournament last

season, the Rams are a known commodity this year – so much so that

President Barack Obama has them beating Wichita State to open the

Portland Regional.

But that doesn’t faze the Shockers.

”I’m pretty sure he’s going off of experience. They’re a team

that was in the final Four last year,” said Wichita State guard

Joe Ragland. ”I’m sure he feels they can make the same kind of run

and it’s up to us to stop that.”

The Rams (28-6) beat Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and

Kansas in the tournament last year, becoming just the third No. 11

seed to reach the Final Four. The run ended when they lost 62-70 to

Butler in Houston.

This season Virginia Commonwealth is a No. 12 seed, having

earned a second straight berth by edging Drexel 59-56 in the

Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.

The Rams open the tournament with a six-game winning streak and

plenty of expectations, given what they accomplished last year.

”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 that they can draw on,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said.

”There are going to be some nerves early on – there just are when

you’re playing an NCAA tournament. But I think they (the older

players) can help the younger guys that haven’t been here.

”They also have winning experience to draw on when the game

gets close, when they face a little adversity. They know what it

takes to battle back and find a way to win.”

Senior Bradford Burgess, leading the team with an average of

13.3 points, said this season feels is a little bit different from

last – in addition to those jitters for some of the youngers

players, the Rams are unaccustomed to the West Coast time zone.

”But at the end of the day, it’s just another basketball

game,” Burgess said. ”We’re just going to have to prepare

ourselves the same way we do always, and just be ready to go.”

It is the 11th time VCU has been to the NCAA tournament. Wichita

State, which won the National Invitation Tournament last year,

hasn’t been in the NCAA tourney since 2006, when it advanced to the

regional semifinals.

In their only previous meeting, VCU beat the Shockers 68-67 in

Wichita last season. Senior Joey Rodriquez had 15 points and 11

rebounds in the victory, while Jamie Skeen, also departed this

season, had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Two late free throws were

the difference.

Ragland says Wichita State really can’t take too much from that

game when the two teams meet again on Thursday.

”They had a lot of offensive fire power last year with Joey

Rodriguez and Jamie Skeen and all those guys who could really put

points on the board,” Ragland said. ”But they didn’t really

pressure us the way this team will, I believe, so it’s two

different teams in my opinion.”

Wichita State, a fifth seed, was ranked No. 18 in the final AP

poll. The Shockers (27-5) won the regular-season title in the

Missouri Valley Conference, but lost to Illinois State in a

conference tourney semifinal game.

The team is led by 7-foot center Garrett Stutz, who is averaging

13.5 points and eight rebounds. He says last season’s 1-point loss

to the Rams is motivation.

”It’s something that’s been in the back of our minds for a long

time now,” he said. ”They were a great team last year, and when

they beat us, that kind of gave them momentum into their NCAA

tournament round. So there’s definitely still some – I won’t call

it rivalry – but there’s still some motivation for us.”

The Rams could counter Stutz with their own 7-footer, sophomore

D.J. Haley, who has averaged about 3.2 points and 11.3 minutes this


”A lot of size down there in the paint,” Stutz mused.