BY HANK KURZ Jr., THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Commonwealth is heading west in hopes of getting another run going in the NCAA tournament, and the Rams finally will play a fellow mid-major level school.
VCU (28-6) is a No. 12 seed and will play fifth-seeded Wichita State (27-5) in the second round in Portland, Ore. The game is slated for Thursday in the South region.
A year ago, the Rams were one of the last teams put in the field of 68, and they beat five BCS-level teams in a stunning run to the Final Four in Houston.
Third-year coach Shaka Smart said a key for his team will be taking what they can from that experience, but remembering what it took to get on the historic roll as well.
"I think it was a positive to learn from it and the things that brought us success," said Smart, now 83-27 in three years at VCU. "It's not something we want to dwell on and we don't want to in any way think that last year is going to make us win this year. We still have to go out and earn a victory, just like we did during the regular season."
The Rams have won 25 of their last 28 games after a 3-3 start, and that's with only one player — senior forward Bradford Burgess — who also was a major contributor last season.
Rather than trying to follow in those footsteps, these Rams want to cut their own path.
"We want to make our own legacy," said point guard Darius Theus, the most valuable player of the CAA tournament. "This is our time to start something new."
Teammate Troy Daniels can't wait for a chance to make a mark. Daniels hit four free throws in the final 19 seconds of the CAA title game against Drexel to preserve the victory.
"I actually can't wait," said Daniels, the Rams' third-leading scorer (10.0). "I played a big part on the team this season, and it's a great feeling. Last year, I really didn't get to play much and I watched those guys wreak havoc on the NCAA floor, and now I get a chance to do it."
And they get to start against a familiar opponent.
VCU traveled to Wichita State last year during the BracketBusters event, and beat the Shockers 68-67 on two late fee throws.
Theus remembers Wichita State as a "very physical and tough team," and Smart praised under-rated point guard Joe Ragland, who averaged 13.4 points, 3.4 assists and hit 57 3s.
The Shockers, coached by Gregg Marshall, are an at-large entry after losing to Illinois State in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
In spite of the Rams' desire to put last year in the past, Burgess seems some similarities, too.
"We just started playing lose, confident and aggressive, and that was what got us to the Final Four," he said. "We still want to play that way this year. We're playing with a great deal of confidence, and when we play that way, it's tough for us to be beaten."