The Rams did not play well down the stretch, losing four of five heading into the CAA Tournament, but put together a run that got them to the finals that included a victory over No. 25 George Mason, which had won 13 straight.
The CAA helped in getting VCU the bid, having 23 victories in what probably was the top mid-major in the country with both George Mason and Old Dominion at the top and such teams as Drexel, Hofstra and James Madison also winning 20 or more games.
In some ways, VCU is a dangerous team as it has a lot of talent including a couple of senior stars in point guard Joey Rodriguez, who led the conference in assists and steals, and F Jamie Skeen, who came out of nowhere to become the leading scorer and rebounder.
The Rams style of play is hard to deal with, too, for they play a full court pressure that keeps the game uptempo and takes advantage of their speed and quickness.
Putting the ball in the basket and playing half-court defense are the big problems they must address, but are more than happy to when you consider they weren't sure if they would be in the tournament at all.
--The selection of the Rams in addition to regular season champion George Mason and tournament champion Old Dominion gave the CAA three teams in the NCAAs for the first time ever.
--VCU's recent NCAA history is marked by one stunning upset and a few near-misses. In 2007, the 11th-seeded Rams upset sixth-seeded Duke, 79-77, in Buffalo, N.Y. on Eric Maynor's 17-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining. VCU later rallied from 18 points down against third-seeded Pitt before falling in overtime, 84-79.
COACH: Shaka Smart, second year VCU, 50-30. Second post-season
KEYS TO VICTORY: VCU can score points. Where they must get the job done is on the defensive end, which has not been good. The Rams gave up more than 67 points a game, up four points from the year before Coach Shaka Smart took over. To win, VCU has to keep up a furious pace on both sides of the ball, pushing it up the court and pressing in the backcourt in an effort to force turnovers. Senior Jamie Skeen emerged as a scoring threat late in the season, hitting both inside and outside as he led VCU in scoring in four of its final five games. The big deficiency is on the boards.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Jamie was phenomenal all year for us and I couldn't be happier for him. He's an extremely hard worker and a guy who just wants to do anything to help his team win. It's nice to see his play get recognition from the coaches around the league." -- Coach Shaka Smart on Jamie Skeen landing All-District 10 honors from the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
GAME PREVIEW: vs. Southern California, March 16, NCAA Tournament second round KEY MATCHUPS: VCU just sneaked in the back door in the NCAA's with a run to the CAA championship game. That got them a play-in matchup with Southern California, the fourth place finisher in the Pac-10. Southern Cal had a mostly undistinguished season with 19 victories, riding mostly on the broad shoulders of 6-10, 260 pound Nikola Vucevic, who averaged 17.3 points and 10.2 rebounds a game. VCU has no one to match his bulk but plays a frenzied, pressing defense that tries to keep teams from setting up against it. If VCU can control the pace, with Joey Rodriguez pushing the ball on offensive, they have a big chance to advance. If they do advance, Georgetown of the Big East awaits them.
SCOUTING REPORT: VCU came to life in the CAA playoffs after a difficult stretch run in which it lost four of five games. Senior G Joey Rodriguez is the heartbeat of the Rams, running the offense from the point and leading their frenzied defense. Statistically he slipped some from last year, his scoring down a couple of points and his assists down by one but it was still good enough to tie for the conference lead. However, a star was born in senior Jamie Skeen, who had operated mostly in the shadows in the past. He got really hot down the stretch and became the go-to guy, nearly doubling his point output to 15.3 after averaging just 8.1 as a junior. He even became a 3-point threat after hitting only 22.2 percent last season while also leading in rebounding at 7.5 per game. The supporting cast is good in double-figure scorers Brandon Rozelle and Bradford Burgess. The Rams are a dangerous postseason team.
--F Jamie Skeen was selected to the NABC District 10 first team. He led the Rams in scoring with 15.3 points a game, rebounding with 7.2 and blocks with 1.1. Skeen's best game of the year came on the night when he joined the 1,000-point club. It came on February 9, when he scored a career-high 32 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Rams to an 84-74 double-overtime victory at Delaware. The Charlotte, N.C. native currently stands at 1,126 career points, 634 rebounds, 86 three-pointers and a career field-goal percentage of 48.5, with those totals coming from his two seasons at Wake Forest and two at VCU.
--G Joey Rodriguez led the CAA in assists with 4.8 per game and finished fifth in steals with 1.5 per game.