Shaka smart to spotlight CAA with dig at Cavs, Hokies

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Shaka Smart spent last March watching his Rams run past schools from BCS conferences on their way to a Final Four.

And he’s not above reminding the in-state ACC schools about how well VCU’s doing this season, either.

“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 during the CAA’s weekly conference call on Monday. “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.”

Yes, that’s a dig at Virginia and Virginia Tech. But is it deserved?

The W-L records show Virginia (17-3) at the top of the heap, followed by George Mason (18-5), VCU (18-5), ODU (14-9) and Virginia Tech (12-9). (James Madison and William & Mary aren’t really part of the conversation). But I’m sure Smart meant more than just the W-L record.

There’s a comprehensive breakdown by Streak the Lawn, a Virginia blog, that covers pretty much any angle one could think of: SOS, PWP, kenpom.com ratings, etc., that shoots a big hole in his statement.

But there are those pesky NCAA tournament result. George Mason, VCU and ODU combine for 11 NCAA appearances, three Sweet 16s and two Final Fours. The Cavs have been to the Big Dance once since 2002. Va. Tech’s been once since 1997.

That might even things out a bit.

It was clearly a clever move by Smart to remind everyone how good the top of the CAA’s been lately and how good it continue to be this season. But I thought this quote from Virginia coach Tony Bennett was accurate and provides some closure to this whole thing (for now).

“Well, Shaka’s a very good coach, and I certainly respect him,” Bennett told the Sporting News. “That’s one man’s opinion. I think it’s a very good league. I certainly respect it. We played George Mason and Drexel, which are two very good teams. … Having coached in the Big Ten, the Pac-10 at the time and now here, and also played in a mid-major league at Wisconsin-Green Bay, you know, there’s great basketball all over the country.

“I think there are some, night-in and night-out when you’re going against a team, at least I can comment on the ACC, it’s a battle. The physicality, the size, the talent level, there’s certainly great challenges that you face top to bottom in a league like the ACC. But that doesn’t take anything away from really any league or the CAA.

“But I know one of the toughest leagues is the one you’re playing in.”

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