Carl Hall played. Ron Baker watched from the bench. Malcolm Armstead and Cleanthony Early watched on TV. All remember March’s Wichita State-Virginia Commonwealth, even if their first impressions differ.
“Good game, we just didn’t take care of the ball in the right situations,” said Armstead, who as a redshirt didn’t travel to tournament. “You want challenges. We’ll see where we stand as a team, early, so we know what we want to work on.”
Baker, then a redshirt, remembers VCU trapping former Shocker point guard Joe Ragland mercilessly and disrupting WSU’s offense on its way to a 13-point lead. The Shockers briefly took a lead in the final minutes before losing 62-59 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Hall scored 10 points and led the Shockers with eight rebounds.
“I know you got to get in shape, because it’s up and down,” Hall said. “They’re not going to stop.”
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Early, as a sophomore at Sullivan (N.Y.) County Community College, saw VCU hold his future team to a season-low in points by forcing quick shots and harassing former center Garrett Stutz into a 2-for-11 shooting performance. The style of play VCU coach Shaka Smart brands as “Havoc” played havoc with an experienced Shocker team.
“They’re fast, they’re long, they’re athletic, they like to trap and they’ll press you the whole game,” Early said. “We’ve got to take care of the ball.”
WSU (1-0) gets another chance to handle VCU’s pressure on Tuesday. Other than recent history, the Shockers don’t appear to enjoy much in their favor. The Rams (1-0) return four starters from last season’s team and are expected to play in front of a crowd of 7,693, their 20th consecutive sellout. They opened the season in typical VCU style on Friday with an 80-57 win over Florida Gulf Coast, scoring 33 points off 25 turnovers and 20 steals. The Shockers are breaking in six new players and trying to establish a rotation. WSU can grasp onto its BracketBusters history for some comfort — the Shockers are 7-0 in return games mandated by that series.
“It’s never great to go to VCU,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They’ve got a great homecourt advantage. I would rather have this game later in the year, but it’s scheduled now.”
WSU got a taste of VCU’s pressure in Saturday’s 71-57 win over North Carolina Central. Central threw traps and half-court pressure at WSU that may mimic how the Rams play. Central coach LeVelle Moton uses those defenses to negate a physical disadvantage; Smart uses his physical advantage to help his defense dominate.
“We basically have some of the principles, same philosophies,” Moton said. “Shaka and I talk a lot. They do it a little more because they’re able to recruit more toward that style.”
Central caught the Shockers by surprise early in the first half. WSU committed turnovers on five straight possessions, helping Central score seven points to cut WSU’s lead to 12-11. Things will get worse against VCU if the Shockers endure similar ball-handling issues.
“It was really good practice for what we’re going to see Tuesday, except VCU does it at a pretty high level,” Marshall said. “VCU comes at you with bigger and better athletes. Their pressure is probably a little more intense, and it’s going to be on the road.”
Saturday’s win started a busy time for the Shockers, who play five games in the next nine days. It may get easier after Tuesday. Baker said the Shockers didn’t look ahead to study film on VCU before Saturday. He didn’t need any help remembering its style.
“We’re definitely going to see a lot of defenses Tuesday and a lot of traps and a lot of pressure,” he said. “They like attacking the ball with two guys on defense a lot.”