The three weeks between Selection Sunday and the crowning of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Champion mark the most exciting time in all of sports. Although it is debatable whether March Madness can be classified as an “event”, it certainly has the nation abuzz each year. ESPN estimates that 59 million of us take ownership in the tournament by completing our personal bracket. Thanks to the CBS family of networks, we then proceed to watch 67 games in 20 days! In this most democratic of tournaments, 68 teams all pursue a trip to the coveted Final Four.
The tournament opens with both excitement and debate as about 75 schools realistically wait in great anticipation for their names to be called. Although it is a 68 team field, thirty teams are automatic qualifiers by virtue of winning conference championships. This leaves 38 at-large spots, with the “power conferences” getting preferential consideration. This year, the Big East Conference garnered more than 25 percent of the available spots. In the end, the committee makes their “last four in” decisions. The committee uses RPI, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and an “eye test” to make their final choices. Ultimately it was VCU in and Virginia Tech out.
Everywhere but on Broad Street the pundits howled. Seth Greenburg and his Hokie Nation were “cheated again”. “So what if we lost to Virginia twice, we beat Duke,” they screamed. Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale went nuts on the selection show. “The dumbest pick I’ve ever seen,” commented Bilas. Saying there was no conceivable reason for their inclusion, Vitale added, “My wife knows nothing about basketball, but she knows enough that VCU doesn’t belong.”
Well they were in, and aided by the tremendous chip on their shoulder provided by the national media, the Rams made the most of it. Five wins in 12 days over USC (Pac-10), Georgetown (Big East), Purdue (Big 10), Florida State (ACC) and Kansas (Big 12) find the Rams in the Final Four. As a Ram fan, I find it very surreal.
When the team arrives in Houston, it will be a stage like no other. I’m sure Shaka Smart will receive a call from George Mason’s Jim Larannaga. Like VCU, Mason weaved its way through the tournament in 2006 as a #11 seed. Coach Larannaga will certainly help Smart prepare his troops for the Media blitz that is a part of the Final Four.
VCU defenders will talk about quality wins at Old Dominion, at Wichita St, and a rout of Mason in the CAA. The Rams’ strength of schedule and RPI were both superior to the Hokies. Of course like Tech, the Rams suffered some ugly losses, most notably at Georgia St and Northeastern. But as Bilas has said throughout the week, “Getting into the tournament and playing your best basketball once you get there are two different things.” One thing that cannot be denied is that for the last two weeks, the Rams have played as good as, or better than any team.
With it’s “minor league” reputation, the Rams have brought “major league” attention to their home town. They are a team that believes in themselves and more importantly
they are a team that will not be shortchanged on effort or preparation. There is no reason they cannot continue the ride.