SAN ANTONIO -- A quick preview of the Southwest Regional final: Virginia Commonwealth vs. Kansas:
What to watch: The glass. Kansas is a brutally effective rebounding team, with a plus-7.9 advantage on the backboard this season. VCU is a minus-3.6. Friday night might have portended what Sunday has in store. In the blowout of Richmond, the Jayhawks were a plus-eight. The same night, VCU was crushed on the glass by Florida State, 47-32.
VCU fully understands how important that area of the game will be. Point guard Joey Rodriguez said that at a Saturday team meeting, some of the Rams’ big men were called out by their teammates for a lack of production on the glass against the Seminoles.
The Jayhawks also were able to intimidate the Spiders, starting with trash talk the day before the game and escalating it to a pregame shoving match in the tunnel leading to the court. Richmond acted unnerved when the game began and promptly fell behind by 22 points. VCU might be a bit outmanned, but it probably won’t be unnerved.
“They kind of bullied [Richmond],” Rodriguez said. “We can’t let that happen to us. I don’t think we will. We’ve got a different set of guys, a lot of tough guys.”
Who to watch: For Virginia Commonwealth, wing Bradford Burgess. He failed to make any of the three CAA all-conference teams, and was insulted by that. Since then, he’s played like a guy who should have been a first-teamer. He’s averaged 17.5 points, 7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in the NCAA tourney, and he’s made 9 of his past 11 3-pointers. If VCU is going to have a shot in this game, it will probably need another hot shooting hand from Burgess. Continued aggressiveness would be welcome, too; coach Shaka Smart said he believes Burgess doesn’t shoot enough.
For Kansas, the play of the power triumvirate of Marcus and Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson off the bench will be central to the outcome. Nobody feeds the post more resolutely than the Jayhawks, usually with great results -- that’s why the Morris twins are combining to average 30.7 points, with Robinson contributing 7.8 off the bench. Friday night the three produced a total of 30 points and 27 rebounds. They will present a major challenge for the vulnerable VCU interior.
VCU wins if: If the Rams maintain their preternatural confidence and poise, both of which flow freely from their coach. And if Rodriguez is able to get the Rams into some productive half-court action -- the VCU senior has a tourney-leading 33 assists and six turnovers this tourney. And if they’re able to score enough from 3-point range to offset whatever they give up in the paint. And if they’re able to produce some turnovers and transition baskets before Kansas can set up its defense. And, if all that fails, if they can find a little leftover pixie dust, the likes of which it used to sneak past Florida State by a point Friday.
Kansas wins if: Once again, the Jayhawks should be in great shape if they merely play up to their capabilities. They slapped 11 minutes of dazzling basketball on Richmond on Friday, and it led to a blowout victory. Through three games, KU has not been seriously challenged, winning each by at least 14 points. If the Jayhawks shoot a solid percentage and don’t give up a boatload of 3s, this one should be similar. The interesting question will be how they respond if VCU hangs around until late.
What they’re saying: “We don’t want to bully nobody. But that’s good if that’s what they think we’re going to do.” -- KU’s Markieff Morris, on whether VCU is preparing for intimidation tactics from Kansas.
“We’ve been watching them our whole lives on TV. They’re a great program, but they wake up and put their shorts on the same way we do.” -- Rodriguez on the Jayhawks.
“We’re at Kansas. Kansas is never an underdog. We have always been Goliath, all the time. We just have to embrace that role.” -- Marcus Morris on being the heavy favorite.
“I probably would say something slick like, ‘Nice prediction.’ But I wouldn’t say anything rude.” -- VCU’s Jamie Skeen, if he had the chance to discuss the Rams’ tournament success with those who said they shouldn’t have been included in the field.
Noteworthy: VCU players were tickled early Saturday morning to receive pictures from home in Richmond, Va., where students had flooded into Broad Street and closed it down to through traffic. “We have the whole city on our back now,” Rodriguez said. … Kansas has trailed for a total of 3 minutes and 29 seconds in 120 minutes of NCAA tourney play. It has led for every second of its 60 minutes of second-half play. ... With Butler's victory Saturday, KU has a chance to reach the national title without having played a team seeded seventh or better.