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2011 Final Four Series: What Did VCU Prove?

Shaka Smart and his VCU Rams deserved to get to the Final Four. But did they deserve the NCAA bid that got them there?

I need to get something off my chest, and I want to be undeniably clear.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love VCU’s ultimate Cinderella run to the Final Four. After all, in an NCAA tournament where heavy favorites were expected to reach the championship, an overlooked, underrated, and thought-to-be unworthy band of athletes from a small school in Virginia has stood above the rest. Coming from the CAA, their dominating play against some of the best teams in the best conferences in the country has proven to anyone and everyone that they deserve their spot in the National Semifinals. Going down the line, their tournament resume speaks for itself:

  • 1st Round vs. 11 USC (Pac-10): W, 59-46
  • 2nd Round vs. 6 Georgetown (Big East): W, 74-56
  • 3rd Round vs. 3 Purdue (Big East): W, 94-76
  • Sweet 16 vs. 10 Florida State (SEC): W, 72-71 (OT)
  • Elite 8 vs. 1 Kansas (Big 12): W, 71-61

Furthermore, what’s not to love about these guys? Head coach Shaka Smart has the kind of can-do, us-against-the-world attitude the general public, and the media, drools over. And, after all, everybody loves an underdog.

Ultimately, with their Final Four berth comes the expected bragging rights. It was only weeks ago when many pundits looked at the field of 68, and scratched their heads – with venerable snubs like Colorado and Virginia Tech, how was it that Virginia Commonwealth got a bid? The most notable critics of VCU’s bid were pundits like Skip Bayless, and the guys over at ESPN College Gameday – particularly Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis and Dick Vitale. They contended that, with the resumes that Colorado and Virginia Tech had, VCU making the field of 68 made absolutely no sense. Bilas summed up the perplexing selection of VCU over teams like Colorado: “These were bad decisions, and, you know, we talk about the ‘eye test’; this one fails the ‘laugh test’.”

And, ever since VCU took out tournament favorite Kansas to earn a Final Four berth, the battle cry of many VCU fans has been a shot at the critics – cries of “We proved all the haters wrong” and “Do We Belong Now?” have littered the airwaves over Houston, TX, as well as anywhere else with a VCU fan base. Now, while this is the expected response, now with VCU showing they were good enough to play, and win, in the tournament, I, for one, don’t think it’s the right one.

I think it is easy to make a simple leap from one idea to the other – that a team like VCU, who many thought should not have even been chosen to be in the tournament, has made a Cinderella run to the Final Four. THEREFORE, all the critics (i.e. Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas) can “eat crow”, with a side of “F U” and “How You Like Me Now?” The problem I have with this is the leap, itself – that “thinking you did not deserve the NCAA bid” and “thinking you are a terrible basketball team” are somehow the same thing.

Lets break this down. The critics were ripping on the NCAA Committee for giving VCU a bid because they felt that the team’s resume did not remotely stack up over resumes of teams like Colorado and Virginia Tech. Comparatively speaking – because that is all the committee had to go on – it made no sense for VCU to get the bid, according to most experts. On those objective measures, VCU probably should not have gotten the bid.

“But, wait!” I hear some of you saying. “Look at what VCU is doing in the tournament! Surely, you have to say they proved the critics wrong by making the Final Four!”

Not so fast. Once again, all the critics said, from the very start, is that their regular season resume did not warrant an NCAA bid. Nowhere in that statement did the critics say that VCU would be bounced out of the tournament in the first round, as a result of the decision. What the team did – past tense – in the regular season, and what they are doing now, in the NCAA tournament, are mutually exclusive – one has nothing to do with the other. Therefore, nothing – not even winning the National Championship – will prove the critics wrong. At the time, their point was solid. Everything VCU does after that, as a result, has no bearing on what their claims of what they did in the past. In other words, taking the words of “Lost” – “What happened, happened”: winning a National title doesn’t change the fact that they finished fourth in the CAA, and lost to teams like South Florida, Georgia State and Northeastern. Ultimately, VCU supporters simply can’t rub anything in the faces of their detractors, because, logically, there’s nothing to rub.

But, isn’t it unfair to say that, despite everything VCU has done, people still say they didn’t deserve to be here? Well, to that, I say this: look at this from Colorado’s perspective. After all, they were the venerable snub of the tournament, having beaten tournament teams Kansas State and Texas a total of four times this season, and still being left out. With the resume they had, didn’t they deserve the chance to go to the tournament? They were forced to watch as a team many questioned as tournament material play in the Big Dance, while they were subjected to the NIT. Perhaps that is a discussion for another day.

Despite what the critics may say (and continue to say), the Rams are nothing but smiles heading into this weekend.

In any case, what does that mean for the Rams? In the scheme of things, not much. After all, while the critics may not be wrong in saying that they didn’t deserve the bid in the first place (As Jay Bilas says here), it doesn’t take anything away from what the Rams have been doing – making an unbelievable and historic run to the Final Four. New York Times Columnist Nate Silver put VCU’s accomplishment in perspective in this column, winning over practically insurmountable odds. In fact, it makes their achievements all the more impressive. With all they have done in the tournament, one thing they did prove was that they can play with, and beat, the best teams in the country.

Ironically, though, they just didn’t prove that they deserved the bid.

5 Comments on 2011 Final Four Series: What Did VCU Prove?

  1. OfromVA Rams c/o 2006 // March 29, 2011 at 12:14 pm // Reply

    Although they may not have verbalized “that VCU would be bounced out of the tournament in the first round, as a result of the decision”, most people’s brackets (those who denoucned VCU publicly and amongst friends) did not have VCU going past Georgetown. And the few left didnt have them getting past Purdue. And a few even didnt believe we would beat USC. So, although it wasnt verbalized that we wouldnt be kicked out the tourney, that was the belief. I suspect that the author of this article shared that belief

    • I will not deny that many people (including myself) believed that VCU would most likely have been ousted in the second round by Georgetown (or even by USC in the first round). However, I believe the same would have been said about Colorado or Virginia Tech – at the very least, no one would have made the claim that either of those teams, while snubbed, would have made the Sweet 16, let alone the Final Four.

  2. Yes! VCU proved the belief of the critics was wrong. The only reason the doubter have to believe VCU’s resume was unworth was because they are in the CAA. VCUs RPI was high enough to warrant access into the tournament. Better than VTs! Other teams in the tournament had a string of loses also but because VCU is in the CAA they are looked down upon. Why was Virginia Tech considered more worthy only because they’re in the ACC. Bottom line is the expert are saying the “Mid Major” programs can’t compete and their regular season records can’t be compared with the Majors. That belief is what’s being proven WRONG! To think other wise is simply foolishness. Go VCU, Go Butler!

  3. Also, VCU has in the past won their conference only to hear the expert say they need to win their tournament to get in! That’s Wrong. I have no pity for the BCS schools that were snubbed. VCU domination of power conferences proves that their resume was worthy. The real point is the NCAA wants controversy like this and they want a story like VCU. Otherwise why don’t the regular season champs automatically get in? Their success prove they should have been included, even if they lost in the first round. Could the other teams have also advanced to the final four? Perhaps. But maybe they should have been included in place of some of the Big East schools. How worthy was their resume at the end of the day?

    Basically the power schools do a great job of blowing smoke and I’d put money down that all the critics went to universities in those conferences. Therefore seeking to keep the myth alive.

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