PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - VCU is all for legacy and tradition. Coach Shaka Smart is trying to turn the Rams into perennial winners in March.
They just don't pay a lot of attention to history when it comes to their opponents. Just ask Southern California, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Wichita State - the higher seeded teams that have lost to resilient VCU in the last two NCAA tournaments.
"When we get an opportunity to play against those guys, we just see another opportunity," Bradford Burgess said. "And we did a great job of that last year, and hopefully we continue that this year."
Take heed Indiana. You could be next in the third round of the South Regional on Saturday.
The 12th-seeded Rams (29-6) already pulled off the first major surprise of this NCAA tournament on Thursday when they took down No. 5 seed Wichita State in the second round, making good on the 12-5 upset that's so common this time of year.
Next up is the fourth-seeded Hoosiers (26-8), and a chance to enhance what Smart and the Rams have accomplished the past two seasons with remarkably different squads.
"Really, the only similarity is the name on the jersey," Burgess said.
Burgess is right. VCU's run to the Final Four last season was powered by the Rams' long-range shooting prowess and unrelenting pressure defense. It was sparked by the seniors, led by Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez and Brandon Rozell.
This time around, Burgess is the only senior starter and the scoring punch from the perimeter is a little shakier and less consistent. But the pressure defense is even better.
"I think we're much better defensively than we were last year," Smart said. "Last year's team could be good on defense at times and we were at times, but nowhere near the level of focus, game in, game out, for a 40-minute period, as this year's team has.
"Because we're not as good of a shooting team, we have our stretches where we score really well, where we shoot really well. But we really depend on our pressure defense."
Certainly these Rams never lack for confidence, a byproduct of Smart's reassuring style. It's not all praise during practice, but he makes sure his players understand what they can accomplish.
"That's something that coach Smart really emphasizes in practice, just going out there and playing aggressive, loose and confident on the offensive end and playing our havoc on the defensive end," guard Troy Daniels said. "That's just something you have to have within yourself. Knowing you can go out there and do it. If you don't, you're not going to have the great results that we have."
That level of confidence has carried over to the entire university. The VCU public relations department took out an advertisement in The Washington Post this week stating: "VCU Back to Bust Your Bracket."
Step one was accomplished against the Shockers. And now they bring a style not seen much in the Big Ten into a matchup with the Hoosiers.
"Big Ten teams don't really press and stuff like that. Their length kind of reminds you of Kentucky, the way they're long," Indiana's Christian Watford said. "But as far as pressure we really haven't faced anybody like them."
That pressure held Wichita State to its lowest point total of the season.
"This is not a game where I think we're going to be able to bring fatigue to the game. I thought we were able to bring fatigue to the game last night," Indiana coach Tom Crean said Friday. "I think this team is deep. I think they're used to the way they play and we're not going to be able to replicate it as much."
While much of the focus is on the Rams and the potential for another memorable March, Indiana has its own comeback story. Crean's rebuilt program picked up its first tournament victory since 2007 when it knocked out 13th-seeded New Mexico State on Thursday night behind the pinpoint outside shooting of Jordan Hulls.
Indiana's tournament history is filled with early exits over the last 20 years - sans its surprising Final Four run in 2002 - but the Hoosiers rarely stumble against schools outside the perceived college elite. Indiana was stunned by Pepperdine in 2000 and Kent State a year later, but otherwise, most of the Hoosiers' departures from the NCAAs have come against the likes of UCLA, Gonzaga, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and St. John's, and when most were high seeds.
Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Indiana has lost only four times in NCAA play to teams outside the power six conferences. But that was Indiana during its prime, not the Hoosiers trying to rebound from being gutted when Crean arrived.
"As we've gone through it then you start to really look forward to the future and to get to points like this," Crean said. "When we first got there, there was no way to think clearly on anything for really past the next couple of days."
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