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VCU has indeed shocked the world and advanced to the 2011 Final Four. The Rams, who many felt didn't even deserve to be in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, shocked the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks, 71-61, completing a stunning run through the Southwest region of the NCAA bracket.
The Rams led by as many as 18 points in the first half, but Kansas rallied in the second half, cutting the deficit to two points at one point. But VCU showed character, responding to the run and eventually putting the Jayhawks away.
Tyshawn Taylor hit one of two free throws to cut the lead to 63-57, before Joey Rodriguez made the biggest play of the night, finding Bradford Burgess backdoor on a lob with the shot clock winding down to push the lead back to eight points. Marcus Morris quickly got two back with a layup with 1:40 remaining, and Burgess threw the ball away, but Kansas couldn't take advantage. Jamie Skeen stripped Marcus Morris, fell on the floor and called timeout to give VCU the ball back with 1:11 remaining. Kansas' last gasp came when Tyrel Reed missed a three-pointer down 66-59.
VCU now advances to face Butler, in a Final Four matchup nobody could have possibly predicted. This also ensures that no No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four.
VCU keeps trying to hold on in its Elite Eight game against Kansas, and it is doing so thanks to Joey Rodriguez. The point guard hit a three-pointer, then drove and found Bradford Burgess for a three to maintain a 63-54 VCU lead with 3:39 remaining.
Tyshawn Taylor continued his erratic game by air-balling a three-pointer, but VCU committed another turnover on its ensuing posession. Kansas, though, responded with another turnover of its own, though VCU could not take advantage because Rodriguez air-balled a three-pointer of his own.
VCU went to a zone defense, and Kansas still couldn't take advantage. Markieff Morris missed a free-throw line jumper, and after a blocked shot by Markieff Morris, Tyrel Reed missed a point-blank layup on the break while being fouled, then hit just one of two free throws to cut VCU's lead to 57-50 with 5:46 remaining.
Kansas cut the lead to 57-52 on a layup by Taylor, but Rodriguez, despite shooting an air ball on his previous attempt, rose and fired a three-pointer to push the lead back to eight. Reid missed two straight free throws, but Marcus Morris ripped the ball away from a VCU player on the rebound for a putback. Rodriguez then drove and kicked out to Bradford Burgess, who nailed his wide open three at the top of the key.
VCU has taken Kansas' best punch and responded. The Rams went on a 7-1 run to push their lead back up to double digits in this Elite Eight showdown, and now lead 57-49 with 7:42 remaining in the game.
Marcus Morris cut VCU's lead to 50-46 with two free throws, but Toby Veal pushed the lead back to six with a jump hook. VCU then stuffed Marcus Morris at the rim, and Jamie Skeen hit another three-pointer to push the VCU lead back to nine points with 10:43 remaining.
Kansas had several chances to cut back into VCU's lead at the free-throw line, but missed three free throws. VCU then completed a 7-1 run when Bradford Burgess drove and found Skeen again for an uncontested layup and a 57-47 lead with 8:53 remaining in the game. Brady Morningstar missed another three-pointer, but Kansas got the offensive rebound and Tyshawn Taylor found Marcus Morris for a dunk.
Kansas has continued to rally against VCU in this Elite Eight showdown, but the Rams look like they have started to respond. The Jayhawks got to within two points, but VCU got two free throws from Jamie Skeen and a transition layup by Darius Theus to push its lead back to 50-44 with 11:55 remaining.
Kansas' rally continued right after the under-16 minute timeout. Tyshawn Taylor finished with a right-handed layup to cut the lead down to 43-39. Shaka Smart called another timeout, which worked to stop the bleeding, as Joey Rodriguez drove and dropped it off to Jamie Skeen for the layup. Kansas turned it over on the full-court pressure, leading to a free throw for Bradford Burgess that pushed the lead back to 46-39 with 14:11 remaining.
Kansas kept coming, though. Tyrel Reed hit two free throws, and then Taylor got free again on the break. Rodriguez tried to move away, but committed the foul, and Kansas got a three-point play when Burgess was called for a goaltend. The foul was Rodriguez's third, and he had to sit out. But VCU caught a break, as Marcus Morris fouled Skeen on a three-point attempt. Skeen his two of three free throws to push VCU's lead back to 48-44 with 12:33 remaining. Markieff Morris then lost the ball, and Theus raced coast to coast for a layup to push the lead back to six points.
You knew Kansas would rally in its Elite Eight game against VCU, and rally they have. The Jayhawks are in the midst of a 9-0 run and have cut VCU's lead to 43-36 with 15:43 remaining in the game.
Markieff Morris got the rally going with a layup, and off Kansas went. Kansas got two more back when Tyshawn Taylor scored a layup to cut VCU's lead to 43-31, and Joey Rodriguez committed a turnover on VCU's next possession, eventually leading to a foul and a VCU timeout.
That didn't work, though. Kansas hit a free throw, then stifled VCU defensively on its next possession, forcing a wild miss from Rodriguez. On the ensuing possession, Marcus Morris scored on a reverse layup, cutting VCU's lead to 43-34. VCU then committed another turnover, and Tyshawn Taylor dunked it on the break to cut the lead to 43-36, and VCU committed another turnover on an offensive foul on the ensuing possession, and Shaka Smart compounded matters by being whistled for a technical foul as the game went to a TV timeout.
In perhaps the most stunning halftime score of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, No. 11 seed VCU leads top-seeded Kansas, 41-27, at halftime of an Elite Eight showdown. The Rams led by as many as 18 points, raining three-pointers and turning Kansas over nine times.
Kansas started to get a little bit going late in the first half. Tyrel Reed finally got a three-pointer to go down, cutting VCU's lead to 39-25. Jamie Skeen then missed a point-blank layup, but Kansas once again could not take advantage, as Josh Selby missed a three-pointer. VCU coach Shaka Smart called timeout, and the Rams worked it inside to Skeen again. Skeen drew a foul and hit two free throws with just under a minute remaining in the first half before Reed nailed two free throws for the final points of the first half.
Skeen has carried VCU the entire half, scoring 15 points on 3-5 from the three-point line and 6-7 from the free-throw line. Brandon Rozzell added 12 points on 4-6 shooting from beyond the three-point line, as VCU is shooing 9-17 there as a team. Marcus and Markieff Morris have combined for 20 of Kansas' 27 points, but Markieff has also committed six turnovers. Kansas, in general, is shooting just 32 percent from the field.
This has officially become a shocker. The No. 11 seed VCU Rams seemingly cannot miss, and the top-seeded Kanas Jayhawks look rattled. Brandon Rozzell has hit four three-pointers, and his final one gave VCU a 39-21 lead with 3:25 left in the first half.
Markieff and Marcus Morris missed two free throws apiece after the under-eight minute timeout, as Kansas continues to make mental mistakes. VCU took advantage, as Rozzell hit VCU's seventh three-pointer of the first half. Kansas called timeout, but that didn't help. Marcus and Markieff Morris missed two more shots, and Toby Veal added two free throws to give VCU an improbable 33-17 lead. Markieff Morris got two more back, but Rozzell hit yet another three-pointer to push the lead to 36-19.
The Jayhawks continued to look rattled. Markieff Morris took a long three-pointer that missed everything, and Rozzell hit yet another three-pointer to push the lead to 39-21.
VCU, once again, is on fire, and is shocking the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in this Elite Eight matchup. The Rams now lead VCU 28-17 with 7:37 remaining, thanks to 6-11 shooting from behind the arc and seven forced turnovers.
Trailing 17-10 at the last TV timeout, things didn't get any better for Kansas. Tyshawn Taylor drove to the basket, but VCU stepped in and drew the charge. Josh Selby missed a runner, then Marcus Morris committed a traveling violation, Kansas' sixth turnover of the first half. After a TV timeout, Markieff Morris slammed into a VCU defender and committed another charge, the seventh turnover of the game, and Jamie Skeen took advantage with another three-pointer to give VCU a 20-10 lead with 9:55 remaining in the first half.
Kansas stopped the bleeding with a layup for Marcus Morris, his 10th point of the game, but VCU remained on fire from three-point range. Joey Rodriguez nailed a three-pointer from the right corner to push the lead to 23-12, though Markieff Morris nailed a transition three-pointer of his own to cut the lead back down to 23-15. But then, Skeen struck again with yet another three-pointer to give VCU a 26-15 lead. Markieff Morris responded with a jumper, but Toby Veal snuck in for a putback to keep the lead at 28-17.
Could VCU be in the process of pulling off yet another shocker? After falling behind early in its Elite Eight game against Kansas, the Rams are on a 17-4 run and have opened up a seven-point lead with 12:49 remaining. Brandon Rozzell culminated the run with a transition three-pointer with 12:49 remaining.
Jamie Skeen, who struggled against Florida State's front line, hit two free throws to put VCU up 9-8. Kansas committed turnovers on its next two possessions, throwing the ball away against VCU's press, then committing a three second violation, but VCU couldn't take advantage either time. The Jayhawks broke VCU's press the second time around, leading to another easy layup for Marcus Morris, but VCU went back up 14-10 when Skeen nailed a three-pointer and added two free throws on the ensuing possession.
Kansas continues to struggle against VCU's defensive pressure. The Jayhawks committed their sixth turnover when Josh Selby stepped out of bounds, and Rozzell hit his three-pointer to extend VCU's lead to 17-10.
VCU got off to a slow start in its Elite Eight game against Kansas, but has rallied. The Jayhawks jumped ahead to a 6-0 lead with easy layups for Markieff and Marcus Morris, but VCU responded by scoring seven of the next eight points to cut Kansas' lead to 8-7 five minutes into the game.
Markieff Morris scored the first two points of the game on the free-throw line, getting inside and drawing the foul, and Marcus Morris got an easy layup inside to give Kanas a 4-0 lead. On the ensuing Kansas possession, Kansas once again lobbed it inside to Marcus Morris for an easy layup.
VCU finally got on the board when Juvonte Reddic slipped inside for a reverse layup two and a half minutes into the game. After two missed free throws by Tyshawn Taylor, VCU pushed the ball and Burgess nailed a three-pointer from the left corner to cut the lead to 6-5. The Rams looked poised for more, but Joey Rodriguez threw the ball away and Marcus Morris got a wide open dunk. Ed Nixon responded by driving right down the middle of the lane for a layup to help VCU's cause and cut the lead to 8-7.
The last underdog left in the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket will try to take down one of college basketball's titans today. That's the narrative of Kansas vs. VCU, which will tip at 2 p.m. Eastern from San Antonio, according to the 2011 NCAA Tournament schedule. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr will have the call on CBS; is there any chance they'll be announcing a VCU victory?
Kansas finally played a complete game from tip to buzzer against Richmond in the Sweet 16. After struggling at times with both Boston University and Illinois, the Jayhawks wasted no time burying the Spiders, putting together a first half of offense and defense that put them up 41-22 at halftime and allowed them to do little more than guard the three-point line in the second period. (Richmond shot 33.6% from the field for the game, and made four of 26 threes.) When Kansas gets that sort of defense out of its sometimes streaky players, and the sort of bench scoring Thomas Robinson et al. provided — 31 points against the Spiders — the Jayhawks are the nation's best team. It's unlikely that they put forth another effort as good as their demolition of Richmond, but the Jayhawks are certainly the current heavy favorite to both move on to the Final Four out of the Southwest Regional and win the national championship. Anything less would be a bit shocking and very disappointing to the Jayhawks faithful.
But what has VCU been doing this NCAA Tournament, if not disappointing bigger schools and shocking the pundit class? Shaka Smart's Rams play smart when they absolutely have to and play the "havoc" style that produces turnovers and transition points for the rest of the 40 minutes. Joey Rodriguez has been a superb distributor in the NCAA Tournament, notching double-digit assists against Purdue and Florida State; Bradford Burgess had 49 points over those two games, and has been lethal from behind the arc. If those two and Jamie Skeen can play well enough to keep it close, Kansas' reputation for tightness and inconsistency could help the Rams make the Final Four. But playing "well enough" may require clearing a new bar of competency for VCU, which hasn't played a team two-thirds as talented as this Jayhawks squad is.
Star Watch: Brady Morningstar is Kansas' leading scorer not named Markieff or Marcus Morris in this NCAA Tournament, and has made eight threes over three games. If he heats up from behind the arc, the Jayhawks' margin of error elsewhere gets a little bit wider.
Prediction: VCU thrills for the first half and is no worse than four points off the lead at halftime. Then Kansas bears down and grinds out possessions at both ends, pulling away for a 73-61 victory.
More Reading: SB Nation's Kansas blog Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City have plenty more on the Jayhawks' Final Four bid, while SB Nation DC has been following VCU's NCAA Tournament run. And check out the SB Nation NCAA Tournament hub for more on the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
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