Give it up for Virginia Commonwealth. Three NCAA tournament games, three NCAA tournament victories.
Normally, that would place a team in the Elite Eight. Settling for the Sweet 16 isn’t so bad, though.
The Rams ran past 3-seed Purdue 94-76 on Sunday, their third win in the past five days. The 11 seed took down USC on Wednesday, Georgetown by 18 on Friday and now the second-best team in the Big Ten. That’s a run worthy of any team in the field.
“VCU can beat anyone in the country on a neutral court,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said afterward.
Tough to argue that right now. They hit 57 percent of their shots against one of the country’s best defensive teams. They turned away the Boilermakers at every turn, which isn’t an easy task given the talents of All-Big Ten performers E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. But they did. And did it well.
“This time of year, as soon as you lose, you’re done. Our guys have made a conscious decision: they don’t want to be done,” VCU coach Shake Smart said.
The Rams’ inclusion into the field of 68 drew jeers, but those died down after the rout of the Hoyas. Now the question becomes: Is it fair that VCU’s played three games when everyone else still around has played two?
It was one of the issues raised when the NCAA expanded the field for this year, setting up the last four teams to receive at-large bids for more work. Is it a fair way to set up a tournament? Or do the logistics simply make it so there’s no right answer?
Consider: When N.C. State won the title in 1983, it had to win six games to do it. That sounds normal, but it wasn’t then. As a 6-seed in a 52-team field, it was one of 32 teams played a game that the top four teams in each region didn’t have to – including their championship opponent, Houston. (Not to mention the eight teams that played opening-round games that year. It was an odd set up.)
Bottom line, it’s unfair to VCU, but there’s no way around it unless they wanted to give another team the short stick.
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