Winthrop-VCU Preview

VCU passed its first big test with a thrilling road win over a Top 25 foe. The 14th-ranked Rams are unlikely to face much of a challenge Saturday night at home against Winthrop, but more tough competition is right around the corner. In a highly anticipated matchup, VCU (2-0) rallied to beat No. 25 Virginia 59-56 on Tuesday. Treveon Graham's 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left broke a tie and capped the Rams' 10-1 run over the game's final 2:44. Graham was the only VCU player to reach double figures with 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting. The rest of the Rams were 16 of 43 (37.2 percent). "His career has just started the second half,'' coach Shaka Smart said of the junior, who averaged 15.1 points last season. ''And if he keeps getting better the way he has, he's going to make a whole lot more of those kinds of shots.'' The Rams were outrebounded 41-28, but were able to overcome the Cavaliers' deliberate pace to win their first true road game over a Top 25 team since 1994. "There is no question that this win on the road, against a Top 25 program, says a lot about these guys," Smart said. Although it was a big win - especially for building an NCAA tournament resume - VCU is no longer sneaking up its opponents. The Rams made the preseason Top 25 for the first time in school history, and many prognosticators believe this team is better than the one that made the 2011 Final Four. "This year we have a lot more focus on us, but we still want to attack and go at them, no matter who it is," Graham said. "Coaches and the leaders of the team help each other stay level headed." While the Rams appear to have the edge against a seemingly overmatched Winthrop team, their schedule is about to get much tougher Thursday when they begin the Puerto Rico Tipoff. They'll open against Florida State, and have potential matchups with No. 7 Michigan, Georgetown and Kansas State. Winthrop (2-0) - picked to finish near the bottom of the Big South - likely won't present such a challenge, having lost its last six games against ranked foes by an average of 27.2 points. The Rams won at Winthrop 90-54 last November, with Graham scoring 14 and Juvonte Reddic adding team highs of 17 points and seven rebounds. VCU's "havoc" defense created many problems for the Eagles, who shot 36.0 percent and turned the ball over 21 times. The Rams, who led all schools last season with 11.7 steals per game, forced 19 turnovers Tuesday after recording 22 in a season-opening 96-58 win over Illinois State. Since the start of last season, VCU is 29-1 when forcing at least 15 turnovers. The Eagles had 12 turnovers in their opener and 11 in their second game, but they've yet to face a defense as menacing as VCU's. Winthrop needed to rally to beat Division III Roanoke in their first game before holding off South Carolina-Upstate in Wednesday's 82-74 victory. Andre Smith scored 15 of his team-high 21 points in the second half Wednesday, with seven coming in the final 1:38. "We've got a lot of character kids in that locker room and they have a lot of competitive toughness," coach Pat Kelsey told Winthrop's official website. "They weathered it and found a way to get the W." Smith struggled mightily against VCU last season, however, finishing with eight points on 3-of-14 shooting while turning the ball over six times.

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