WICHITA — Wichita State senior Garrett Stutz remembers watching VCU play its way from the opening round to the final weekend in last year’s NCAA tournament.
He believes the Shockers have what it takes to make the Rams’ stay shorter this time.
The Missouri Valley regular-season champions were rewarded for their strong regular season with a No. 5 seed Sunday and will play 12th-seeded VCU (28-6) — the mid-major darlings who threatened to steal the big show last season — in the second round of the South Regional.
“We remember they are very athletic,” Stutz said. “They play quick, they play a lot of transition basketball, a lot of opportunity basketball. They press the whole game.
“That’s a style that we’ve prepared for, and we’ve seen teams like this, so I like the matchup.”
The teams met last year in a BracketBusters game, when the Rams converted a pair of free throws in the final second to win 68-67 at Wichita State.
Their second-round game will be played Thursday in Portland, Ore., with the winner to face fourth-seeded Indiana or No. 13 seed New Mexico State for the right to advance to Atlanta.
The Shockers (27-5) appeared to be in line for a better seed before losing to Illinois State in the semifinals of their conference tournament. Wichita State not only tumbled to a fifth seed, it also wound up in the same region as overall No. 1 seed Kentucky.
Not that it matters a lot to a team that hasn’t been to the tournament since 2006.
“A lot of hard work that we put in for four years, and to finally get a chance to watch Selection Sunday and know that you’re getting in is an honor for us,” senior guard Toure’ Murry said. “Shows how much hard work we’ve put in.”
The Shockers learned of their seeding during a public watch party with fans at Koch Arena.
“Pretty cool feeling,” Stutz said. “A common goal that we all had coming in here as freshmen. We hadn’t achieved it until today. Pretty cool feeling.”
Wichita State will be making its ninth NCAA tournament bid but first under Gregg Marshall, who led Winthrop to seven appearances in nine seasons. His team even knocked off No. 6 seed Notre Dame in 2007, when it was a trendy pick as the No. 11 seed.
Marshall said he likes the style matchup against the Rams, who seem to thrive when they’re able to create chaos. The Shockers’ five leading scorers are seniors, and Marshall doesn’t think they’ll be easily rattled by VCU coach Shaka Smart’s fast-paced attack.
“They have a style that’s unique — similar, I think, to Alabama, the way they played us early in the year with the pressure, the traps,” Marshall said. “We have veteran guards who will be very prepared for that style. ... It should be a highly entertaining basketball game.”