VCU's defense tormented WSU guard Joe RaglandThe score: VCU 62, WSU 59
Key statistics: WSU made 11 of 35 shots in the first half and 24 of 62 for the game. VCU took seven more threes than the Shockers, and made one more.
Records: VCU 29-6, WSU 27-6
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The final Day After of the season comes to you from Pizza Schmizza in downtown Portland. Some seasons, you’re ready for it to be finished. This season, not at all. The Shockers played so well in January and February that I was ready to watch them for a long time. I suspect fans felt the same way. In February, especially, WSU played inspired, even beautiful, basketball for long stretches. Now it’s over, and it’s got be a big disappointment for the coaches and players. The NCAA Tournament takes on such importance that they may feel empty after VCU rudely dismissed them on the tournament’s first day. WSU worked so hard to get a taste of the NCAAs, and it ended quickly. The Shockers didn’t play the way they played most of the season, and that’s the disappointing part.WSU’s effort was defined more by what we didn’t see than what we did. VCU took away many of the characteristics that made the Shockers so successful on offense. The Rams made it difficult to reverse the ball, robbing the Shockers of the open threes or passes into the post. When WSU plays a non-conference opponent, we often see it get an easy basket or two when its big men screen for each other and one gets open for a layup. It’s common to see Ben Smith or David Kyles come off a screen or two for an open shot at the top of the key. Toure Murry’s forays into the lane often create open shots for his teammates. Little of that happened for the Shockers, at least until the second half. As Murry said, they had to play a lot of one-on-one basketball. That is fine in small doses, but it doesn’t work as a No. 1 option for long.I found myself wondering why 32 other coaches didn’t attack WSU by forcing the ball out of Joe Ragland’s hands. I guess the answer is that 32 other coaches (with the exception of Alabama) didn’t possess the defensive stoppers that VCU has. The Rams subdued Ragland with traps and negated Garrett Stutz by ruining WSU’s offensive flow. VCU’s length and shot-blocking also bothered the Shockers. One play illustrates this factor at a key time. WSU gathered momentum with Kyles making several plays. His three cut VCU’s lead to 46-40 in the second half and then the Shockers got the ball after a turnover. They ran a perfect play with Ragland cutting baseline to take a bounce pass. VCU’s Juvonte Reddic came from out of the play to block Ragland’s layup. Instead of cutting the lead to 46-42 with a 9-0 run, the Rams got the ball back. They scored to make it 48-40.Another sequence illustrated how the Rams played one step ahead of WSU most of the game. Coach Gregg Marshall called timeout early in the second half with one of his guards trapped and in danger of turning the ball over. After the timeout, VCU trapped Demetric Williams and forced a jumpball to get the ball back.It’s hard to win NCAA games without good performances from starters. While none of the Shockers played to their top level, Ragland and Murry performed adequately. Ragland scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half. Murry scored 10 points with five assists and four steals. Ben Smith (7 points, 0 rebounds), Demetric Williams (0 points, 2 turnovers) and Stutz (4 points, 7 rebounds) didn’t produce. Carl Hall and David Kyles played well off the bench, but their contributions weren’t enough.The common thread in WSU’s six losses was poor shooting. WSU shot under 40 percent in four of those losses and its best effort in a loss was 41.4 percent against Temple in November. I would consider Alabama, Temple and VCU as above-average to excellent defensive teams, with athletes to match WSU. Illinois State approached that level on that day in March. Drake and Creighton – bad days. WSU didn’t need to survive bad shooting nights often. It won four other games when it shot under 42 percent.WSU lost one game by double figures – 70-60 to Alabama in November. In four of its losses, the Shockers had a shot to win in the final 10 seconds – Temple, at Drake, Illinois State and VCU.What comes next? We will see what happens with the South Carolina coaching position. I don’t have any kind of feel for Gregg Marshall’s future. If forced, I would guess he will return, but that’s not based on much solid information. Coaches love their recruiting class, and I expect it to grow. I can’t see them going into next season with Hall and Ehimen Orukpe as WSU’s only experienced big men.Losing five seniors changes things dramatically. Those five played major roles in reviving WSU and pushing the program forward. We saw enough of Tekele Cotton and Jake White to reasonably think both will contribute next season and grow into good players at some point. Cotton, in particular, flashed impressive athletic ability and composure. I will be surprised if he is not starting next season. White improved as much as any player over the season. Ben Smith showed him how to play the “stretch four” position and White can be a similar factor at some point in his career.We know a little about the schedule for next season, now highlighted by a return trip to VCU. Tulsa returns to Wichita. I’m hearing WSU will play at Air Force in the MWC-MVC Challenge, although I don’t know that for sure. The trip to Cancun should be a good test, but not overwhelming, for a young team.While in Portland, I talked to administrators at New Mexico and Oregon. Both built or renovated arenas recently with the intent of attracting the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico’s renovated arena seats just over 15,000. Oregon’s new arena seats 12,500. They said the NCAA told them that capacity is fine for the early rounds, which would seem to be a good sign for Wichita’s Intrust Bank Arena (capacity 15,000).