Rob Brandenberg, Briante Weber

Don’t mistake VCU for last year’s Final Four squad

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We all know the story by now.

Shaka Smart’s scrappy VCU team was a questionable addition to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, finding their way into the play-in game, before putting together one of the most memorable runs in tournament history. The Rams won five straight games over power conference foes, making their way to the Final Four before finally seeing their run end at the hands of the nation’s preeminent cinderella in Butler.

VCU lost four starters off of that team, but the Fighting Shakas have once again found their way into the tournament, winning 16 of their 17 games as they earned the CAA’s automatic bid with a win over Drexel in the tournament final.

Is there more magic to be had?

Well, I’m not so sure.

The Rams play the same style that they did last season, but this is a different team. They don’t shoot the three nearly as well as they did last year for a number of different reasons. The biggest reason for that drop-off? Beyond the simple fact that the senior that graduated were better shooters than the young guys that filled their roles, without Jamie Skeen in the lineup, VCU doesn’t have a big man that can step out and knock down a three. Juvonte Reddic is a terrific player, but his effectiveness offensively doesn’t stretch that far away from the rim.

What VCU does do effectively this season is play the “havoc” defense that Smart as become known for. They press, and they do it very well, leading the nation in defensive turnover percentage and steal percentage. This gets them quite a few baskets, but the problem with running a pressing defensive system as a mid-major team is that it relies heavily on having better athletes. Once you get matched up with a team from a bigger conference, a team that is similar athletically, you can run into some trouble.

That is precisely the reason that Dick Bennett, the former UW-Green Bay head coach, altered his defensive philosophy from that of a pressuring defense to the Pack-Line defense his son, Tony, currently runs at Virginia.

Throw in the fact that VCU’s first round opponent, Wichita State, is a veteran laden group that is adept at protecting the ball (47th nationally in turnover percentage) and it is easy to understand why VCU is not as trendy of a pick as you would have thought before the bracket was released.

That said, Joe Ragland and Demetric Williams, WSU’s starting back court, can be turnover prone. And the Shockers don’t have the kind of athleticism that will blow you away.

We’ve picked against the Rams before, and it back-fired. Just be aware that while the jersey and the head coach may be the same, VCU is a very different team than the one that made the Final Four a year ago.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Rick Pitino: ‘We should be penalized … but not this team’

Rick Pitino
(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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One of the biggest storylines of Saturday’s college basketball schedule had everything to do with a team that no longer matters in the championship picture.

Less than 24 hours after being informed that the school would be imposing a postseason ban that will leave the Cardinals out of the ACC and NCAA tournaments, No. 19 Louisville tipped off against Boston College, and they did so without leading scorer Damion Lee, who is battling a knee issue.

How would the team respond to the decision — the despicable, shameful decision — that the university’s president made?

Well, it seems.

The Cardinals jumped out to a 19-2 lead in the first eight minutes and cruised to a 79-47 win over an overmatched Boston College team in the Yum! Center.

And head coach Rick Pitino, after the quote, said exactly what everyone is thinking.

“We should be penalized, no question about it,” he said. “But not this team. But the NCAA didn’t make that decision. We made that decision.”

He’s totally right. The school sacrificed the season — and the only shot that a pair of fifth-year seniors would get to play in the NCAA tournament — to protect the school, the brand and the bottom-line moving forward. Like I said earlier, it’s despicable.

But credit the Cardinals for responding.

Because they still have something on the line. They’re just a game out of first place in the ACC, and while an ACC regular season title isn’t a shot to play in the ACC or NCAA tournament, it’s still a banner that would probably mean more to Damion Lee and Trey Lewis than any league title has meant to a Louisville player before.

Oklahoma State without Jawun Evans, questionable moving forward

Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans (1) goes up for a shot between Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) and forward Perry Ellis (34) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. Oklahoma State won 86-67. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Oklahoma State’s star point guard was not in the lineup on Saturday against No. 13 Iowa State.

Evans injured his shoulder in the Cowboys’ loss at Texas Tech on Wednesday and was ruled out of Saturday’s game.

According to the school, his official status moving forward is questionable. The Pokes are just 11-11 on the season and likely need to earn the Big 12’s at-large bid to get into the NCAA tournament. It makes sense to let him get healthy.

Evans was averaging 12.9 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 boards this season, but he had been arguably the best point guard in the Big 12 during league play, averaging 15.6 points and 5.6 assists.