VCU practiced for two hours today. The first hour was on the floor in which the games will be played; followed by a five-minute walk to the practice gym. The kids are holed up and the message was relayed on the plane before we left Richmond: the team is treating this as a business trip.
(Side note: the best part of the trip so far was watching Briante Weber hold little Zora Smart and play with her while we waited to takeoff. Priceless moment–Weber is a beast on the floor, and a great kid off the floor.)
I can tell you this: the "arena" is, literally, a converted ballroom with bleachers trucked in. Don't get me wrong–the Atlantis Resort is doing this up very nicely, but it's a funky feel for certain. I didn't attend VCUs practice but I did stumble into Northern Iowa shooting. Even the noises in the room were odd, different. I cannot wait to see it filled up.
Now, I stumbled into the Northern Iowa practice because I was looking for the Memphis practice. I eventually tracked them down and spent 15 very good minutes with head coach Josh Pastner, who is very much looking forward to the game.
"It's going to be fun," he said about the matchup. "I'm really looking forward to it. It's hard sometimes when you face a Princeton offense and slowing down, but this game is two good teams with fast styles and it should be up-and-down and fun for the fans."
Pastner related that running is part of Memphis's game as well, so he didn't make any special preparations during the run up to tomorrow because that's what they do everyday anyway. "We press too," he said. "We did some six-on-five and seven-on-five but (that's what) we always do. There's going to be turnovers. We're going to the ball over. VCU is going to turn the ball over. It's part of the game and the way we both play."
Pastner did note that Samford took a bunch of quick shots against Louisville but ran their offense deep into the shot clock against Memphis. Louisville blew out Samford, and Memphis was in a tight game late until the Tigers pulled away for an 11-point win. The coach was unhappy, comparing his team's performance to a family out playing putt-putt golf, waiting for the family in front of them to clear the hole.
(My take: look for VCU to run offense and break down the Tigers. That may be a hidden key.)
There are a few more nuggets that were either coachspeak, or nuggets that I will hold until the radio broadcast. All in all, it was a very enjoyable interview. Pastner was very complimentary of Shaka Smart and knew VCUs recent past (Capel to Grant to Smart).
Finally, Pastner said that one of the things he's most proud of is that Memphis will graduate eight players next semester–five of them are juniors. Education is important to the young coach.
I can say this without blushing: I want VCU to beat Memphis's brains in tomorrow night. However I'll root for Pastner and the Tigers the rest of the year. Pastner is our kind of guy.