VCU is here in Portland, and so am I. While I use this title in jest (I turn 30 this weekend) it is also fitting for this much younger VCU team playing a veteran Wichita State team in the first round (second round, whatever) of the NCAA Tournament. Having talked with the Shockers, they will be no pushover. What's interesting about last year's run, is that the Rams went 5-0 against major conference teams, but the minute they ran into another Mid-Major is when they lost. This year they'll open up against one.
The Shockers are ranked 15th in the country, their scorer is their big guy - 7'0" Garrett Stutz, but the player I'm excited to watch tomorrow is their point guard - Joe Ragland. He's a guy who reminds me of Chris Paul, in his demeanor, quickness, size. It'll be interesting to see if he plays like him. Also, these Shockers still harbor some anger about how they lost to the Rams last year in Wichita. They will carry that into the game tomorrow.
As for the Rams, one thing that was obvious every step of the way last year was how loose they were in each shootaround - from Dayton all the way to Houston. And once again, they played games at the end of the workout, laughed the entire way through, and didn't seem like they were about to play a win or go home huge game. They're ready.
I really found pleasure in spending some time with Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall. He played and coached with Hal Nunnally at Randolph-Macon (Marshall would also get a grad degree at the University of Richmond). Marshall says that R-MC was the only school that game him a scholarship coming out of Roanoke, and he gives all the credit to Nunnally for being a coach. One thing he said he took from Nunnally, is he's often criticized for not calling timeouts (because Nunnally almost never did). But he did joke that he might wind up having to take 3 in the first half against the Rams.
This city's motto is "Keep Portland Weird" and it certainly feels weird getting ready for some basketball games that will start a bit after 9AM local time. VCU really lucked out getting the 4:15 game. I can't imagine what it must be like to get up that early to play a basketball game.
Am I going to pick a winner for tomorrow? Of course not. If there's one thing that VCU's run taught us last year, is that anything can happen, so I believe VCU can win this game, but I'm not positive about anything. That whole midmajor thing makes me wonder though....
To help get you ready for the game, check out Shaka Smart and some of the players previewing their showdown with the Shockers: