By Brad Thompson–
The members of the selection committee are feeling much better about themselves after the first weekend of the tournament. They owe this new-found confidence to the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Last weekend no one thought VCU should be in the NCAA tournament, not even with the field expanded to 68 teams this year. The Rams were denounced by commentators and bracketologists across the country. They simply weren’t good enough and didn’t deserve to be a part of the Big Dance.
Funny how things have changed in less than a week, now VCU is the talk of the tournament.
VCU received an at-large big and a chance to play in the “First Four” as part of the newly formatted tournament. The Rams rewarded the committee for believing in them when they defeated USC last Wednesday. It was unexpected, but not shocking – the Trojans were a bubble team, too.
VCU’s next game was against a Big East powerhouse, the No. 6-seed Georgetown Hoyas. Surprisingly, they bullied the Hoyas. The Rams pushed Georgetown around in the first half and held an 11-point lead at the break. The second half was more of the same by the Rams. With 15 minutes left in the game the lead ballooned to 49-28, VCU was on its way to ending the Hoyas season.
On Sunday, VCU was a heavy underdog to No. 3-seed Purdue Boilermakers. It didn’t matter. Still fueled by motivation from all the doubters, the Rams responded by trouncing the Boilermakers. VCU, for the second time in three days, made a late first half run and never looked back. Purdue was never in the game in the second half. The final score was 94-76.
This is why it’s called March Madness…not only has VCU won three games in five days to advanced to the Sweet 16, but they’ve done it by demolishing two higher seeded teams, both by 18 points. The two teams, each from the supposed power conferences, were no match for the Rams.
What VCU has done has been nothing short of stellar.
I’m as guilty as anyone for thinking that VCU shouldn’t have been in the tournament and would ultimately exit early. It was great to watch this team play such inspired team basketball. Sure they have some talent, but motivation is clearly carrying them. Just listen to the player’s postgame comments.
“We knew we belonged here,” Senior Joey Rodriguez said, after beating USC. “We did a great job coming out here proving it.”
“Anytime people disrespect you, especially on national TV, it kind of hurts you,” Rodriguez said, following the dismantling of Georgetown. “We had an opportunity to come out here and prove people wrong.”
“It’s VCU against the world,” Jamie Skeen said, after pummeling Purdue. “Nobody else thought we could do this. Nobody else’s bracket said that we’re going to make it to the Sweet 16.”
A team like VCU is what makes the tournament special. VCU is playing with a huge chip on their shoulder and continues to prove doubters wrong. It’s inspiring for everyone who has ever been told they weren’t good enough or couldn’t accomplish a goal.
It’s inspiring to see a team come together and play as well as VCU has. They’re sharing the ball offensively and playing suffocating team defense, while giving inspiration to underdogs everywhere.
During the postgame press conference after defeating USC, Rodriguez said, “We’re not done.”
At the time, it seemed like a pretty normal comment from a confident player following a big win, but not even Rodriguez could have envisioned how true those words would end up being.
The Rams turned a very negative situation for the tournament into a positive one and the selection committee members are surely grateful for that, but it’s what the committee gave VCU that has made this tournament memorable – hope.
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.