The 5 vs. 12 matchup in the South Region this Thursday night between the Wichita State Shockers and the VCU Rams could quite easily manufacture that region's contestant for the Cinderella team of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
The Shockers posted a record during the regular season of 27-5, and despite losing in the final of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to Illinois State, were the winners of the regular season conference title. They have an impressive 10-1 record on the road this season, and will be playing in the tourney for the first time since 2006, having won the 2011 NIT Championship during their hiatus.
The Rams of VCU have a Final Four from last year in their recent historical success at the tournament, yet lost four players from that team and have the ninth youngest team in the country. Their significant youth, however, did not prevent the team from upsetting Drexel 59-56 in the Colonial Athletic Association final, to obtain birthing rights for the Big Dance. They finished the regular season at 28-6, which ties them for most victories in school history, and enter the Thursday’s showdown having won 17 of their last 18 games, as well as six in a row.
Where: The Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon
When: Thursday, March 15 at 7:15 p.m. ET
Betting Line: Wichita State -6.5 according to Wager Minds.
VCU will be without forward Heath Houston, who has missed the last three games due to a knee injury. He is listed as being out indefinitely.
Wichita State has no injuries to report.
*All injury information via USA Today.
What They're Saying:
In his 10 Bold predictions about the tournament, ESPN's Myron Medcalf, had this to say, regarding the winner of this 5 against 12 matchup:
The VCU/Wichita State winner is headed to the Sweet 16: It’s unfortunate that this game will eliminate a potent mid-major. Wichita State and VCU, a Final Four team last year, are two of the best in the country. I predict that the winner of this game will end up facing Kentucky in the Sweet 16. They’re both tough, physical defensive teams that will pressure Indiana in the round of 32. The Hoosiers have struggled outside of Bloomington. And whether they face the Shockers or the Rams, they’ll be in for a battle, one that I expect them to lose.
Most Important Players to Watch:
Wichita State center Garrett Stutz- 13.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 55.6 FG%
The senior center for the Shockers doubled his ppg from last year, topping out at 13.5 on the season, in addition to leading the team in rebounding with 8.0 per contest.
He had big back to back big games in February against Missouri State and Indiana State, going for 25 points and 11 rebounds against the former, and 24 points and 15 rebounds against the latter. Of his 15 boards in that game, 14 were on the defensive end.
On the year he had 11 double-doubles, in addition to notching three or more blocks in a game four times. If Stutz is able to establish himself consistently on the blocks, Wichita State will have significant leverage to work with throughout, as well as more openings for the backcourt duo of Joe Ragland and Toure’ Murry.
VCU guard/forward Bradford Burgess- 13.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.5 apg
Burgess, is an elder statesman on VCU’s youthful team, that graduated four players from its Final Four squad of a year ago.
He is a man who likes to launch, and he prefers to do his launching from beyond the three-point line. On the season he hoisted 205 attempts from that vicinity, hitting 36.6 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, down from the 43.4 percent that he connected on last year.
Who will win this game?
As a man with Final Four experience, and as this is his last run in the tourney, Burgess will be looked upon as a leader for the youthful Rams team.
Key Matchup: Experience vs. Youth
Although the Shockers have not been to the tournament since 2006, and the Rams made it all the way to the Final Four last year, from a roster standpoint, Wichita State has the advantage in experience.
There starting lineup includes four seniors and one junior, specifically guard Joe Ragland, who shot a ridiculous 56.7 percent from the field and an equally ridiculous 50 percent from beyond the arc on 114 attempts. Along with his backcourt running mate senior Toure' Murry, and senior center Garrett Stutz, the Shockers have a wealth of inside and outside threats to throw at the Rams.
In spite of their youth, VCU are reputed to have one of the most suffocating full-court defenses in the nation, having forced a total of 610 turnovers during the regular season, in addition to 10.6 steals per game, which was tops in the country.
They also have players with youthful promise, including, 6-9 sophomore forward, Juvonte Reddic, who put up substantial averages of 10.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, as well as shooting 51.6 percent from the field.
Prediction: Wichita State 68, VCU 57
As tenacious as the Rams defense is, their young team simply will not be able to stay with the Shockers in depth and offensive production throughout the contest.
If they somehow manage to get Stutz into some early foul trouble, it could provide enough vulnerability to keep the score close, but for a team that shot 41 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from beyond the arc, they will not have the amount of offense needed to emerge victorious.