Why VCU will be among the 65 teams in the NCAA Tournament

All is not lost. If history is any lesson, VCU should expect an invitation from the NCAA selection committee by 7.00pm Sunday.

VCU had a really bad day on Sunday. William and Mary, seeded fifth in the CAA Tournament, knocked off the #1 Rams 56-54 in a stunning upset. A shock was felt throughout the Richmond Coliseum.

Everyone assumed the worst. The dream of a repeat trip to the NCAA Tournament appeared dashed and a bid to the lowly NIT expected.

All is not lost. If history is any lesson, VCU should expect an invitation from the NCAA selection committee by 7 pm Sunday.

History Lesson

The year: 2006.
The Venue: Richmond Coliseum.
The Event: The CAA Tournament

The Team: UNC-Wilmington, the top seed, breezed through the tournament and locked up a #9 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

However, that’s not the CAA team that people remember. That team would be George Mason, who made a mad dash to the Final Four and shocked the country. And surprisingly, that team looked a lot like the 2008 VCU Rams.

The 2006 George Mason squad was 15-3 in CAA play (VCU was 15-3 as well) and 27-8 overall (VCU – 24-7). That team didn’t have any wins over traditionally strong teams, but did have close losses to Wake Forest and Creighton. VCU on the other hand, knocked off Maryland at the start of the season this year.

The Patriots had a dismal performance in the CAA Tournament in 2006 – they got knocked off in the semifinals by Hofstra, a team they had no business losing to (just like VCU and the Tribe).

The one stark contrast between the 2006 Patriots and the 2008 Rams – George Mason had an RPI rank of 26, compared to VCU, currently sitting at 53. While RPI is not the sole factor of ranking teams, the NCAA does weigh it heavily.

In more recent history, the 2007 Old Dominion squad (24-8) also lost in the semis of the CAA tournament but still got its ticket punched to the NCAA tournament.

If history is your guide, there’s no reason to rule out VCU just yet.

A Case for VCU

VCU is seated firmly on the bubble of this year’s NCAA Tournament. But several reasons make it likely that VCU will get a ticket to the big dance.

First, VCU’s regular season CAA Championship is commendable. Knocking off the traditional powerhouse Maryland was extraordinary, the same Maryland team that beat #1 North Carolina. VCU put up impressive, but losing, efforts against Miami and Arkansas as well. The Rams can also add big wins against Houston in the Puerto Rico Shootout and Akron in ESPN’s Bracket Buster match-up to their résumé.

Second, while VCU’s RPI is a little shaky, they’re 8-2 in their last 10 games, which is a large factor considered by the selection committee. Also weighted heavily is performance on the road, where VCU put up the big wins against Maryland, Houston, and Akron.

Then, there are the intangibles. VCU brings a spark to the tournament that most other teams lack. Anthony Grant is the wunderkind of college basketball head coaches and will likely get his pick of jobs across the country in years to come. He has given VCU basketball new life, especially if the terrific crop of freshmen he recruited, including Larry Sanders and Joey Rodriguez, live up to expectations

Finally, if last year’s performance was any indication of the Rams’ potential, they don’t disappoint. The NCAA awarded VCU a #11 seed last year, and the team showed they earned it by knocking off Duke 79-77 and taking #3 Pittsburgh to overtime.

A little help?

Of course, VCU will take all the help they can get. And they’re looking for help in a couple different ways.

The Rams need help from all its previous opponents in the form of wins. Every win by VCU opponents improves their RPI rank and could do wonders to sway the selection committee in their favor. You can bet that Grant’s squad will be cheering on Maryland in the ACC tournament.

Maryland won’t be the only team the Rams will be rooting for in the coming week. VCU needs as many bubble slots open as possible, so they will be crossing their fingers that teams already a lock for the tournament win their conference titles. Should an underdog win the upcoming conference tournaments, they could have very well stolen VCU’s slot.

Don’t forget the other bubble teams. Quick conference tournament exits by teams commiserating on the bubble could brighten VCU’s prospects. Early-round losses by Ohio State, Oregon, Syracuse, and Florida in their respective tournaments could make all this discussion moot.

“Our destiny is in someone else’s hands,” said head coach Anthony Grant after the game. “Whatever tournament we play in, we’ll be excited to play.”

My guess is that VCU will be thrilled when they’re invited back to the NCAA Tournament.

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Sam Fetchero

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