- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2012

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH

Record: 28-6, 15-3

Coach: Shaka Smart (83-27, third season)

Conference: Colonial (automatic bid)

Last NCAA appearance: 2011 (Final Four)

Starters, Pos., Yr., Pts.

Darius Theus, G, Jr., 8.6

Troy Daniels, G, Jr. ,10.0

Bradford Burgess, G, Sr., 13.3

Juvonte Reddic, F, So., 10.6

D.J. Haley, C, So., 3.2

Critical juncture: The Rams split their first six games, all but one away from home. They followed it up with six straight double-digit routs before Christmas (including a 73-51 thrashing of Richmond) and kept rolling from there.

Reason for optimism: Pick one of many. Darius Theus is a more-than-capable point guard. Briante Weber is exceptional at disrupting defenses. Troy Daniels is an efficient outside shooter. Bradford Burgess is a mainstay. And after last year’s Final Four run, there’s probably some belief it could happen again.

Reason for pessimism: Defensive rebounding. If there’s a nit to pick with the Rams, it is a defensive-rebounding percentage that ranked ninth in the CAA. Of course, VCU helps offset that by easily leading the conference in steals and turnover margin. Make no mistake: The Rams are dangerous.

Wild card:Daniels. The junior helped fill out the rotation his first two seasons, started the opening two games this year but generally was a reserve for most of the year. He’s started the past 15 games, reaching double figures in 10 and hit a 3-pointer in all but one. If he gets hot, VCU’s tough to stop

The draw: The Rams earned a No. 12 seed and get rewarded with a mid-major showdown against fifth-seeded Wichita State in Portland, Ore., on Thursday at 7:15 p.m There’s a path open to the second weekend, with fourth-seeded Indiana short-handed thanks to the loss of guard Verdell Jones III to a knee injury.

Number of note: 6

Coaches to open their careers with 80 wins in their first three seasons: Brad Stevens (89), Smart (83), Mark Fox (81), Mark Few (81), Everett Case (80) and Bill Guthridge (80).

Projection: Who wants to bet against the Rams after last year? Anyone? A win or two could easily be in the cards after a revamped roster did what last year’s bunch couldn’t: win the CAA tournament. Also on tap is even greater interest from bigger programs in the 34-year-old Smart after demonstrating he wasn’t a three-week wonder,