DAYTON, Ohio -- Virginia Commonwealth (23-11), although a noted mid-major nationally because of its recent success in the postseason and the NBA Draft, was not exactly the No. 1 team on the Trojans’ radar heading into Selection Sunday.
The Rams play in the Colonial Athletic Association, a 12-team East Coast league made up of five schools from the state of Virginia and a number of former bracket-busting teams like George Mason and Old Dominion.
Still, none of the players – aside from maybe juni0r guard Jio Fontan, the braniac of the team and a noted coach-in-waiting type – knew anything substantial about VCU prior to the matchup announcement.
As the team’s six key players sat at a makeshift podium for a post-selection press conference, they looked around nervously at each other when asked to relay what they knew about the Rams.
Finally, junior forward Nikola Vucevic spoke up.
“We know they beat UCLA,” he said.
True, the Rams did beat the Bruins – at Madison Square Garden in November as part of the – tournament. They also narrowly lost to the ninth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers the previous game.
But Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill hasn’t paid much attention to VCU’s early-season games, instead of focusing on their most recent five or six games. He watched the Rams’ CAA tournament final against Old Dominion live last week and has-rewatched it since.
“I didn’t even go back and look at [VCU-UCLA] because it was so far ago. I watched their last five or six games. It’d be like anybody watching us play Rider or play Bradley.
“It’s a whole different team -- they’re much better, they’re much deeper. They’ve got some experience for guys who didn’t have experience early. We know that they’ve matured as a team; hopefully we have.”
And, about the players not knowing anything about the Rams – that’s mostly been resolved.
“Players, in general, never know about other teams unless they play them,” O’Neill said Tuesday. “We’ve spent a lot of time on it the last couple days, and they understand now what kind of team they are and how dangerous they are.”