Things get real tonight as VCU faces their first true test of the season, a matchup that pits the Rams against the Shockers of Wichita State in a battle of what’s quickly becoming a heated rivalry between two schools seperated by just over 1,200 miles of America.
You can thank former CAA rival George Mason for adding some heat to this rivalry. The Patriots knocked off WSU not once but twice in 2006, first in a road BracketBusters contest, followed by a Sweet 16 Mason win that saw the Patriots dance all the way to the Final 4.
Five years later, VCU’s Joey Rodriguez drove the length of the court before getting fouled and hitting the two game winning free throws to defeat the Shockers with just 0.8 seconds on the clock, a win that proved crucial to VCU’s at large bid that season. It was another home BracketBusters loss for the Shockers, and another CAA team that used that momentum and at-large resume boost to dance all the way to the Final 4.
Just a year later, the Shockers looked to be the tournament darling, a chic pick to go to the Final 4 after an impressive 27-5 record heading into their first round game as a No.5 seed against the 12th-seeded VCU Rams.
But if there’s one thing a high seed hates to see in an early round game of the NCAA tournament, it’s a motived, Shaka Smart-coached VCU team. VCU’s 62-59 tourny win over the Shockers once again ended the season of the midwest power, and added another heart-breaking chapter to the growing rivalry that is VCU versus Wichita State.
Here’s the preview…
Wichita State (1-0)
This is the first true test for either team this season, as both are coming off double-digit wins over outmatched opponents. The Rams used their typical havoc wreaking style to run Florida Gulf Coast out of town, the Shockers their dominating rebounding to out-glass North Carolina Central to the tune of a 43-25 rebounding advantage.
A quick look at WSU: The Shockers lost a slew of talented players from last season’s NCAA tournament team, including 2012 MVC firts-teamers C Garrett Stutz and PG Joe Ragland, and MVC honorable mention Toure’ Murry. Gregg Marshall’s squad is lead by senior JUCO transfer Carl Hall, a former commit of VCU before having a late change of heart and switching to the Shockers. Hall is a rhino in the paint (17 pts, 13 rebs in game 1), and he’ll have to have a thick skin like a rhino tonight, as he’s sure to hear a lot from VCU fans who aren’t quite ready to forgive him for his decision. Joining Hall are a pair of talented freshmen in Ron Baker and Malcolm Armstead. Armstead came into the season with perhaps more of the hype, but it was Baker who grabbed opening game headlines after dropping a cool 18 points in just 24 minutes of play, hitting four of his seven threes against NC Central. The two freshmen guards will be tested, as they’ll face a VCU press that might be the toughest they see in their careers at WSU, and do so in just their second game as Shocker freshmen.
A quick look at VCU: Ram fans wanted to see havoc in their first viewing of the Rams, and it’s havoc they got. VCU lead the country in steals per contest last season at 10.6 a night, and with 20 against FGCU to start this season, including 10 from sophomore bandit Briante Weber (a VCU single-game record), the Rams look to be even more dangerous this season. The Rams rotate an incredibly deep bench and play a lineup with six guys who can post 20 points on any given night. VCU however has struggled in the past year in sometimes keeping the pedal to the metal and not allowing teams to fight their way back into contests. Case in point, VCU jumped out to a 26-point lead over FGCU, only to be outscored in the second half while giving up un uncharacteristic 37 points in the process.
Tale of the Tape…
Scoring Offense: VCU 80 pts/game, Wichita State 71
Scoring Defense: (tie) VCU and Wichita State both gave up 57 points in their home openers
Field Goal%: Wichita State 44.6%, VCU 43.8 %
Field Goal% Defense: Wichita State 37.5%, VCU 45.5%
3-Point Field Goal%: Wichita State 31.6%, VCU 26.7%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: Wichita State 29.4%, 30.8%
Rebounding Margin: Wichita State +18, VCU +16
Turnover Margin: VCU +11, Wichita State 0
VCU wins if: Wreaking havoc has never been a problem with this VCU squad who returned all but one player from last season’s team (senior Bradford Burgess), making shots however, often has. VCU is likely to see a lot of the zone defense that was most effective against the Rams in last season’s tournament game. Ram fans will hope they are more successful from long range than they were in this season’s opener (8-30). VCU has proven an ability to win even when the shots aren’t falling, but an effective night from Troy Daniels is usually the kiss of death for incoming opponents.
Wichita State wins if: Their freshmen play like seniors. Here’s the challenge: play your first-ever college road game in on of the toughest environments in the country (Siegel Center is 11th all-time in home winning percentage) against one of the, if not THE overall best, pressing team in the country…YO! That is one tall task for a backcourt as green as the talented WSU freshmen are. The Shockers will also need Carl Hall to play like Carl Hall, but more so than the Carl Hall who faced VCU last season. 10 points and 8 rebounds is a respectable line, but with so much senior leadership off playing overseas, Hall may need to put up a Blake Griffin type line as the freshman guards adjust to the pace of D1 college hoops, and VCU D1 college hoops pace at that.
Game tips at 7PM tonight in the Siegel Center and on ESPNU. Listen to the action live on 107.3FM or watch with other Ram fans at Baja Bean in the Fan.