CHICAGO — Oh yeah, VCU belongs in the NCAA Tournament. The real question now: Who can stop the Rams?
Fresh, fast, furious and at times flawless, VCU didn't look a bit like a team playing its third game in five nights. The Rams (26-11) pressured Purdue, broke through its defense for numerous layups and overwhelmed the third-seeded Boilermakers 94-76 Sunday night to earn their first trip to the Sweet 16.
As their fans chanted "VCU, VCU," players hugged and celebrated on the floor of the United Center.
A week earlier, the Rams received an at-large bid to the disbelief of some critics. Shuttled off to Dayton for a first-round game, they beat Southern Cal on Wednesday, got into Chicago in the wee hours Thursday, routed Georgetown on Friday then did the same to the Boilermakers.
"A week ago, we thought we were done," said relentless point guard Joey Rodriguez, who had 12 points, 11 assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes.
"And now, we're here in the Sweet 16. Anything can happen now."
Coach Matt Painter, whose Boilermakers (26-8) were denied a third straight Sweet 16 trip, agreed.
"If you watched VCU a certain time in the season you wouldn't see what you just watched out there," Painter said. "Then you watch them during a four- or five-game stretch and you literally think, 'They can beat any team in the country.' … I made that statement: VCU can beat any team in the country on a neutral court. And I believe that. … I was hoping that team wouldn't show up, but that team from VCU did show up."
Bradford Burgess had 23 points to lead a balanced offense, and the Rams' depth wore the Boilermakers down in the second half when the lead reached 20 points.
"It wasn't easy. We just made plays out there. You see all these guys on TV, and we're watching them all year and in our heads, we're like, 'Man, we can play with these guys,' " Rodriguez said.
"We're getting the opportunity now and we're proving it."
KANSAS 73, ILLINOIS 59: Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris combined for 41 points and 24 rebounds, powering the top-seeded Jayhawks (34-2) in Tulsa, Okla., to ensure they wouldn't make an opening-weekend exit from the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. The twins scored 24 of Kansas' first 29 in the second half, punctuated by consecutive two-handed slams by Markieff that made it 62-51 over the ninth-seeded Illini (20-14) with 3:51 left.