Wichita State plays a lot of Missouri Valley Conference teams whose sole goal is to slow the game. Today's BracketBusters game is a break from that grind.
Virginia Commonwealth wants to speed up the Shockers. The Rams (20-8) press and shoot three-pointers. They lead the Colonial Athletic Association in turnover margin at plus-3.8, forcing 15.5 a game with a mixture of man-to-man and zone presses and traps.
"It's pretty relentless," Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor said. "It will wear you down if you let it."
WSU (22-5) gets a weekend off from the MVC race, but not from an important game. The Shockers desperately need good wins to bolster their NCAA Tournament at-large resume. The Rams, even after losing three of their past five games, rank No. 64 in the power rankings. WSU, ranked No. 48, is 2-4 against teams in the top 100 and a win over No. 79 Northern Iowa is its best.
"It can help our RPI, and help us out in trying to get to the NCAA Tournament," WSU sophomore guard Demetric Williams said. "I think everybody in the locker room has their head right and sees it as a way to get into the NCAA Tournament. We've got to come out and perform at home."
First and foremost, that means handling VCU's athletic ability and pressure defense. Rams coach Shaka Smart took over the program in 2009 after serving as an assistant coach at Florida. Pressure defense is his team's signature.
"It's something our guys enjoy doing," Smart said. "It gets us playing fast. When it's effective, it gets the other team playing fast."
WSU junior Joe Ragland will start his third straight game at point guard. He took over the job with a mistake-free game, spiced with the ability to make big plays. VCU presents a challenge for Ragland, who must choose when to push the ball and when to slow down. VCU will try to take WSU out of its plays by getting the Shockers to play out of control.
"All of sudden now, someone's going to come in and pressure you with varying degrees of intensity," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "This will be a good learning experience for him, and hopefully a positive one."
If the Rams don't force turnovers, the defense is vulnerable. They rank 10th in the 12-team Colonial by allowing opponents to shoot 45.1 percent from the field. In three losses this month, the Rams allowed each opponent to shoot 46 percent or better and score 70 or more points. Northeastern shot 58.1 percent in a 91-80 win on Feb. 2.
"They like to get up in you and they like to speed your game up and turn the ball over," Williams said. "We've got to be patient, going fast when necessary and slowing down when you need to slow down. You should get layups all day, if you handle it right."