By Brad Thompson–

As I struggled to watch the University of Texas-San Antonio crush Alabama State, I had the same feeling as the night before when I witnessed Clemson cruise to victory over UAB in the new first round of the NCAA Tournament. The ‘First Four’ is a joke, I thought.

Even watching UNC-Asheville defeat Arkansas-Little Rock in overtime, which was the only close contest of the play-in games, I couldn’t help feeling a bit duped by the NCAA. They expanded the tournament to include three more teams and three more games. From what I saw it clearly wasn’t for the fans viewing pleasure. The NCAA was trying to fool us all into thinking this tournament expansion deal was for the betterment of the players, schools and fans, when in reality it was all about money.

Fast-forward two weeks and the jokes on us, or at least me. I didn’t write about how I felt about the First Four, but truth be told I thought was a complete waste of time. Now that Virginia Commonwealth has, in implausible fashion, advanced to the Final Four, it seems the highly scrutinized Tournament Selection Committee and the expanders of the tournament knew what they were doing.

VCU was one of the final four teams to receive an at-large bid, which meant the Rams had to play in the ‘First Four.’ Where would this Cinderella team be if the NCAA hadn’t expanded the tournament this year? In the NIT that’s where, as incomprehensible as VCU’s run has been, in wouldn’t have been possible in any other year except this one.

The staggering numbers are out there if you like odds, percentages and statistics. The fact is, the numbers are so astounding that it’s hard to wrap your head around them. Let’s just say that it’s a gross understatement to call the Rams the ultimate long shot.

Only in a year when parity reigned supreme in college basketball could a team with the tournament resume as questionable as the Rams’ be playing in the Final Four. If you can ever get over just how unfathomable VCU’s run has been, try looking at how they beat opponents.

VCU had to win five games to make to the Final Four; no team has ever had to do that before. They won four out of those five games by double digits. Only their game against Florida State, which went into overtime, was as close as what we’re accustom to in the tournament. The Rams won five do-or-die games, after losing five of their last eight games prior to the NCAA tournament. They’re ranked 301st in rebounding and entering tournament play they weren’t ranked in the top 100 in defense.

This all adds up to a Cinderella story for the ages and VCU isn’t done yet. The way they’re playing they could win it all. The only problem is the Rams are facing a Butler team that knows a little bit about the magic involved with Cinderella’s slipper too.

Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.

brad thompson bio pic Thompson: First Four Responsible For Cinderella, VCU

Brad Thompson

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.

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