The best basketball programs in the Commonwealth are in the CAA (sorry UVA & VT)

On Monday, VCU’s basketball coach Coach Shaka Smart made national headlines when he said that, as far as basketball goes, “the best programs in the state are in the CAA, and it’s not even close.” Is it true?

On Monday, VCU’s basketball coach Coach Shaka Smart and coach Paul Hewitt from GMU made national headlines. Coach Smart said that, as far as basketball goes, “the best programs in the state are in the CAA, and it’s not even close.” Hewitt, who coached at Georgia Tech for 11 years, added “Virginia and Virginia Tech have more talent, but that NCAA tournament bids and wins is what schools are judged by.”

Here’s Coach Smart’s words from the teleconference:

“There’s certain schools you end up recruiting against and maybe schools that aren’t even in our league that kind of beat their chest and say they have the best program in the state,” Smart said. “The reality is if you go by the numbers, if you go by postseason, if you go by guys going to the NBA, the best programs in the state are in the CAA and it’s not even close. In terms of recent success, in terms of postseason appearances and success, in terms of some of the players that have come through our program, George Mason, Old Dominion, yes, I think we are ahead of them.”

Virginia Tech left the Big East and joined the ACC in 2004. Virginia Commonwealth University, Old Dominion University, and George Mason University have done some incredible things in the seven and a half season since then while Virginia Tech and University of Virginia have been…underwhelming.

Let’s look at some of the data!

Body of Work since 2004-2005 season

Total wins 208 216 232 160 176
NCAA berths ’06, ’08, ’11 ’05, ’07, ’10, ’11 ’07, ’09, ’11 ’07 ’07
NCAA record 5-3 1-4 6-3 1-1 1-1
Highest ranking 8th N/A 6th 15th N/A

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Winning percentage ’05-’12

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Conference winning percentage, ’05-’12



Getting into the NCAA tournament is no easy feat for a mid-major team but the CAA trifecta has been 10 times since 2005, while UVA and Virginia Tech have only been once each. In those trips the CAA is a combined 12-10 with two Final 4s and a perfect 3-0 record against the ACC. VT and UVA are a combined 2-2 over that span with their only trips coming in 2007.

Top conference blinders

Since Monday several pro VT/ UVA arguments have been brought up:

CAA schools would fare significantly worse in the ACC

Since the 2004-2005 season, VCU is the only team in the group with a winning record against ACC opponents (4-3). During that same span the trifecta is a perfect 3-0 against the ACC in the NCAA tournament. Tech and UVA’s winning percentage against ACC teams is only 44.5% and GMU, ODU and VCU are close behind at 40.9%.

The CAA is weak, therefore GMU, ODU and VCU can easily get automatic bids to the tournament.

Last season the CAA sent three teams to the NCAA tournament and in 2006 & 2007 the CAA sent two teams. Since 2005, the trifecta actually boasts a 10-5 record as at large teams. CAA teams, unlike VT and UVA, take full advantage of tournament bids.

NBA Players

In 2010 VCU became the first school in Virginia to have back to back first round NBA draft picks:

  • Eric Maynor (20th pick in 2009), who is, coincidentally, famous for beating the ACC powerhouse Duke, was the best backup point guard in the NBA last season according to Michael Wilbon. He recently tore his ACL but he is a key player on the talented Oklahoma City Thunder.
  • Larry Sanders (15th pick in 2010) left VCU a year early to be drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks where he is a contributor off the bench.

VT and UVA haven’t contributed as much:

  • Tech’s Devon Washington (59th pick in 2008) was waived before the season started and he now plays in the NBA development league.
  • UVA standout Sean Singletary (42nd pick in 2008) played 37 games for two teams averaging 2.4 points before being waived.

The Future

Over the past decade VCU, GMU, and ODU have outperformed Virginia and Virginia Tech, but things in Virginia are changing. Next season, the Cavaliers are bringing in three top-100 players to add to this years successful team. After going to the Final 4, VCU is also recruiting at a significantly higher level. Recently, 2012 VCU signee, Jordan Burgess moved into the ESPN top-100 and other players considering VCU are “high-major” talents.

Regardless of what coaches Shaka Smart and Paul Hewitt said, the state of college basketball in Virginia is improving. Over the past nine seasons only the states of Indiana (Indiana, Butler), Kentucky (Kentucky, Louisville), North Carolina (Duke, UNC) and Virginia (George Mason, VCU) have sent multiple teams to the Final 4. In the world of college basketball, that’s an elite list and the state of Virginia should be proud.

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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