By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday SUN
ABOEV PHOTO: VCU [Virginia Commonwealth University ] guard Joey Rodriguez yells during the Colonial Athletic Association Championship final in Richmond, Va. Rodriguez and his team left for the NCAA Regional Semifinals in San Antonio this week.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
You know your NCAA Tournament bracket is busted up if you didn’t pick VCU, Florida State or Richmond to be in the Sweet 16. Your bracket is definitely on life support if you had the University of Pittsburgh winning the national championship or at least making it to the Final Four.
But ladies and gentlemen that is the beauty of March Madness. Even us so-called experts never seem to get it right. This year’s NCAA Tournament has definitely had its share of surprises and outstanding performances.
VCU rolls over the competition
Outside of the No. 1 seeds in this Tournament the team that I’ve been most impressed with has been the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams.
VCU’s journey to the Sweet 16 was probably the most difficult when you consider that they played in the first round game, known as the “First Four.” Three of the teams that played in those Tuesday-Wednesday games were gone by the Second Round.
But VCU’s run throught the tournament has been remarkable. They’ve beaten their first three opponents from the Pac-10, the Big East, and the Big 10 by double digits. Not bad for a team from the Colonial Athletic Association, considered a mid-major school.
The reason for the Rams success has been senior point guard Joey Rodriguez, who has averaged 12.3 points and 7.6 assists per game in VCU’s first three tournament games. He had 11 assists in VCU’s win over Purdue. Head coach Shaka Smart said he likes his point guard’s competitiveness.
“Joey’s nuts. He wants to win the whole thing, I guarantee you. And he kind of leads the way for everybody,” Smart said.
No Philly Love this year
This was definitely not a good year for Big 5 teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Villanova, who hadn’t won a game since Feb. 19, stumbled into the tournament having lost four straight. In their second-round matchup against George Mason, the Wildcats had a six-point lead with 3:28 left in the game.
George Mason ended the Wildcats season with a 13-3 scoring spurt and limited Villanova to zero field goals. After starting the season with a 16-1 record and a Top 25 ranking, Nova’s season came to a crashing halt.
Meanwhile, Temple’s trip to the NCAA was a case of good news/bad news. Starting with the good news, Owls head coach Fran Dunpy got his first tournament victory since replacing the legendary John Chaney. Juan Fernandez’s last second shot put the Owls over the top in a thriller over Penn State.
Alas, the Owls season would come to an end two days later against No. 2 seed San Diego State. But Temple took the Aztecs to the limit. It took two overtimes before the Owls finally ran out of gas. Temple had its shot to advance, but in the end, they didn’t have enough to put them over the top. See ya next year!
Overrated: The Big East
Throughout the college basketball season, everyone, especially all the pundits at ESPN, gushed over how great and deep the Big East was during the regular season. On Selection Sunday, 11 Big East teams got tickets to the Big Dance.
But for all that hype, only two of Big East teams made it to the Sweet 16—Connecticut and Marquette, teams that finished eighth and ninth respectively. Now granted, the Huskies and the Golden Eagles played (and beat) fellow Big East teams Cincinnati and Syracuse to get there. But the University of Pittsburgh was bumped off by Butler on free throws with less than a second left and the Panthers were a Number One seed. Georgetown got blown out by VCU, Villanova couldn’t find the basket late in the game against George Mason and Louisville got sent home on a last-second three-pointer by Morehead State.
Of course, Big East supporters will tell you that things are so physical in their conference that teams that lost were probably worn down.
If your conference is supposedly that good, you should get more teams into the Sweet 16 even if the play is physical, right?
Folks it’s not about your conference. It’s about the team in front of you. All this conference superiority stuff gets pushed to the side when the tournament starts. When Morehead State played Louisville, they weren’t playing Villanova, Georgetown, or Connecticut. It was Morehead versus Louisville. Team versus team. It’s all about individual matchups.
What’s on Tap?
But now that the Sweet 16 is set, what can we look forward to? Can VCU continue it’s Cinderella story? Can Ohio State and Kansas keep smacking down their competition? Will the Duke Blue Devils get the chance to be the first team since the Florida Gators to repeat as champions?
Stay tuned! We’ll be closer to the answer this weekend.