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Sports Then and Now

Small Conferences Provide Big Tournament Excitement 18

Posted on March 06, 2012 by Dean Hybl

It was pure joy for players and fans in Richmond when VCU punched their NCAA Tournament dance ticket.

There was a time when the weekend of the ACC and Big East men’s basketball tournaments was as anticipated as the opening week of the NCAA Tournament.

When I was a middle and high school student in Virginia during the early 1980s, the only time our teachers would ever bring a television into the classroom was on the Friday afternoon of the ACC Tournament so we could watch that opening game in between science, math or English lessons.

In the Big East you could always count on classic battles between Georgetown, St. Johns, Syracuse and Villanova as each looked to secure bragging rights in a conference that was built for basketball.

That, of course, was the days before the 64 team tournament (now 68) when only the best team or two from each league was assured of making the tournament field and even high quality squads had to make a deep run in the conference tournament to guarantee a spot in the NCAA field.

Since 1985 when the NCAA field expanded from 53 to 64 teams after having as few as 22 teams participating just a decade earlier, the role of the conference tournament in power leagues like the ACC, Big East and SEC in determining which teams make the NCAA field has steadily declined.

Now, instead of the third or fourth seeded teams in these tournaments feeling they needed to make a run to the title game to ensure a spot in the NCAA field, they now enter the tournament knowing an early exit won’t hurt them and the extra rest may actually be helpful for their NCAA run.

Occasionally, like Georgia in the SEC in 2008 or Connecticut in the Big East last year, a team that must win the conference tournament to make the NCAA’s can still emerge and capture the crowd. Read the rest of this entry →

VCU vs. Kansas: Cinderella Meets The Wizard of Oz Meets The Bachelor 5

Posted on March 28, 2011 by John Wingspread Howell

Will VCU end up wearing the glass slipper at the 2011 NCAA Championships?

Bear with me. I’m mixing three metaphors but it all works out in the end.

We call it the Big Dance. We refer to the party crashers as Cinderella. No team is more of a Cinderella in this year’s March Madness than Virginia Commonwealth. And the pundits and purists who expressed their loathing of the Rams making the tournament at all, are the ugly stepsisters.

You can’t blame them. Like the stepsisters of the fairy tale, those who scorn the likes of VCU crashing the party are those who stand on convention. They are traditionalists. They perpetuate arranged marriage. If a prince seeks a bride, then she must have a pedigree. When the Fairy Godmother smiles on the upstart, they are beside themselves.

VCU has garnered more scorn than any team making the cut in recent memory. Thus they are the quintessential Cinderella. Metaphor number one.

Enter Kansas Jayhawks. A sign in the crowd at the Kansas/VCU game read, “You’re not in Kansas anymore.” That was obvious. Marv Albert said the Jayhawks looked “shell shocked” late in the first half. “Did you see the look in their eyes?” He exclaimed.

The only remaining number one seed was definitely not in Kansas any more, Call them shell shocked. Call them Dorothy in Munchkin Land. Definitely not in Kansas. Metaphor number two.

Except this Dorothy has no ruby slippers. And I guess you would call VCU the Munchkins. And they have the glass slipper. The only question remaining is will the slipper fit in the end. Read the rest of this entry →

VCU Quiets the Basketball “Experts” 6

Posted on March 27, 2011 by Dean Hybl

VCU has shouted loudly with their actions during the NCAA Tournament to reach the Final Four.

If Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale and the legion of other NCAA basketball “experts” we regularly see on television were in charge of selecting the NCAA Tournament field, the VCU Rams might be on their way to New York for the NIT Finals or getting back in the swing of classes after the end of basketball season. But fortunately, those “experts” are not in charge and instead the Rams are preparing for a trip to Houston for the first Final Four appearance in school history.

Given how bleak the experts believed the chances were for the Rams to make the field two weeks ago, the team didn’t even bother watching the selection show together. But within hours of the announcement they were on their way to Dayton and have been on an amazing trip ever since.

Following their dominating 71-61 victory over top seeded Kansas, the Rams are now the first team in NCAA Tournament history to advance to the Final Four after winning five tournament games. They did so by defeating teams from the Pac-10, Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 and winning four of those games by double digits.

Coupled with the Elite Eight victory by Butler, we are now guaranteed a team from a non “power” conference reaching the NCAA Championship Game for the third time in four years.

Both Butler a year ago and Memphis in 2008 fell just short, but given the lack of dominance by big conference schools in recent years you have to believe that 2011 could bring the first NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Champion from a non-power conference to cut down the nets since UNLV in 1990. Read the rest of this entry →

Mid-Majors Prove They Belong in the NCAA Tournament 2

Posted on March 19, 2011 by Dean Hybl

The VCU Rams have shown that they belong in the NCAA Tournament with a pair of victories against power conference schools.

When the bids for the NCAA Tournament were announced last Sunday, much venom was dispersed by self-proclaimed tournament “experts” about how the committee had made a huge mistake in selecting a pair of non-power conference teams (VCU and UAB) over supposedly more deserving schools from major conferences.

The under-pinning message in their comments was that it was okay for teams with 14 losses from major conferences to receive at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament, but heaven forbid the committee award schools from conferences with less national prominence for their solid seasons.

Their argument seemed to be justified after UAB sleep-walked through an opening round loss to Clemson.

However, since that game, schools from conferences outside the so-called “Power 6” (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC) have more than held their own against schools from the power conferences.

It started with a victory by VCU over USC in the second of the opening round games between at-large tournament teams.

In the second round of the tournament, there were 12 games in which power and non-power conferences met in games between teams seeded from 4th through 13th.

Of those 12 games, the power conferences claimed six victories and the non-power conferences claimed six victories with the non-power conferences winning two of the three games in which both teams were at-large tournament selections. Eight of the 12 games were decided by five points or less with the two largest margins of victory being posted by non-power schools (VCU defeating Georgetown by 18 and Gonzaga crushing St. John’s by 15).

This illustrates that when playing on a neutral site, there isn’t significant difference between the so-called “big boys” and their lesser funded “country cousins.” Read the rest of this entry →

2011 NCAA Tournament: Let the Madness Begin 5

Posted on March 13, 2011 by Dean Hybl

It is that time of year again with brackets being completed and the debate heating up in preparation for the most enjoyable three weeks of the college basketball season, the NCAA Tournament.

In the first year of the 68 team tournament it has been proven that even adding three additional at-large teams doesn’t ensure happiness with the system.

In a year that college basketball experts say is filled with mediocre teams, there continues to be disappointment with some of the selections into the NCAA tournament field. Most specifically, the inclusion of Alabama-Birmingham and Virginia Commonwealth has some experts scratching their head and calling foul.

While both teams certainly have warts, the difference between them and some of the power conference teams that just missed the tournament isn’t significant.

What the NCAA Tournament committee seems to be saying is that conference success isn’t enough to get into the dance. Both UAB and VCU play in solid conferences and had a number of quality victories. Read the rest of this entry →

  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Rusty Staub: A Man For All Ages
      April 8, 2024 | 1:26 pm
      Rusty Staub

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is a former major league baseball player who came into the game as a teenager and stayed until he was in his 40s. In between, Rusty Staub put up a solid career that was primarily spent on expansion or rebuilding teams.

      Originally signed by the Colt .45s at age 17, he made his major league debut as a 19-year old rookie and became only the second player in the modern era to play in more than 150 games as a teenager.

      Though he hit only .224 splitting time between first base and rightfield, Staub did start building a foundation that would turn him into an All-Star by 1967 when he finished fifth in the league with a .333 batting average.

      Read more »

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