USC: Bradford Burgess

USC-VCU: The last of the First Four

March, 16, 2011
3/16/11
9:20
AM PT
Here are five questions -- well, four, plus a prediction -- that will go a long way toward deciding USC's game against Virginia Commonwealth in the final First Four game of the NCAA Tournament:

1. VCU and USC have never played each other. Has either team played a similar opponent?

It's an interesting little sub-story to today's game. The two teams, USC and VCU, have each compared each other to opponents from their own conference.

The Trojans compare the Rams to Washington, the Pac-10 tourney champions. The Rams compare the Trojans to Drexel and Old Dominion.

“A little bit of Drexel,” VCU second-leading scorer Bradford Burgess said when asked who he thought USC resembled. “They’re a big team, a physical team. And we’re going to have our work cut out for us. They have a very talented big man that Jamie’s going to be matched up against.

"They have some quick guards that we’ll have to keep in front and not allow dribble penetration. It’s just going to be just a team effort that we’re going to have to use to win the game."

VCU's combined records against those two CAA schools? 4-3. The Rams lost to ODU by five last week in the CAA title game.

"Actually, we've played a lot of teams that have some similarities with USC," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "We really have a lot of respect for USC's physical front court and their ability to rebound on the offensive end. And then their guards are extremely good at getting in the lane, making plays, and they can get hot from outside.

"So, from our league, Drexel is similar to that. Old Dominion has some similarities to their physicality inside. Wichita State is a team we played in the bracket-buster who has a very imposing front line and guards that can play."

For what it's worth, the Rams beat Wichita State by one, 68-67, last month. Smart also said that he noticed further similarities between USC and UCLA, who the Rams beat in November.

(Read full post)

First look: Virginia Commonwealth

March, 14, 2011
3/14/11
7:47
AM PT
It's new and it's unusual, but it's reality: USC will face Virginia Commonwealth on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio as part of the NCAA's new "First Four" system. The Trojans and Rams will play at 6 p.m. on truTV for the No. 11 seed in the Southwest bracket and the right to travel to Chicago and face sixth-seeded Georgetown in the official first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Here's what you need to know about VCU and its 33-year-old coach, Shaka Smart: (1) Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill compares them to Pac-10 champion Washington, and (2) the Rams' defensive style is known as "havoc."

Suffice to say, Smart's squad is quick, and Smart's squad is multi-talented. The annual Colonial Athletic Association powers play a lot of full-court press, which will surely trouble a USC team that has rarely faced such a defense this season. The Rams are also 10-deep, meaning that the stretch run of Wednesday's game will feature a tired Trojan squad against a not-so-tired Rams squad.

Still, USC is favored to win by most experts, and the consensus appears to be that the two teams will meet for one of the more highly anticipated games of the first round.

“VCU is a team that, obviously, being in the NCAA tournament as an at-large, deserves our respect," O'Neill said Sunday. "They’re gonna play up and down, they’re gonna shoot threes, they’re gonna play aggressive. They’re deep, they play hard."

VCU's top two players are two upperclassmen in forward Jamie Skeen and guard Bradford Burgess. Skeen, a 6-9, 240-pound Wake Forest transfer, puts up 15.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and also possesses a potent outside shot. Burgess averages 14 points per game and can also stroke it from long range, tossing up more than four 3-pointers per game this season.

Aside from its top two, VCU has a lot of guards. The Rams' next four top scorers all stand 6-4 or shorter. Lately, Smart has also been starting a 7-foot freshman center named D.J. Haley, who hails from nearby Palmdale, and playing him limited minutes.

It wouldn't be a surprise to see the raw, athletic Haley start Wednesday and cover either the Trojans' Nikola Vucevic or Alex Stepheson at tip-off.

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