Monday, March 28, 2011

Joey Rodriguez For President

TigerBlog didn't watch the VCU-Southern Cal game nearly two weeks ago, and his only interest in the result that next day was generated by the fact that the winner played Georgetown.

"VCU?" TB probably thought. "Great. Easy win for Georgegtown."

That was before VCU went down the path of what is up there with the Giants run to the Super Bowl a few years ago as the second-greatest sporting accomplishment that TB has ever seen. Always, always keep in mind that nothing can touch the Miracle on Ice.

Still, a national championship for VCU would come pretty freaking close. And at this stage, who's to say it can't happen?

Virginia Commonwealth, in a span of just 10 days, won five NCAA tournament games, defeating team from the Pac 10 (USC), Big East (Georgetown), Big Ten (Purdue), ACC (Florida State) and Big 12 (Kansas).

Oh, and for everyone who's currently saying/writing that the Big East was overrated, those words would have a little more meaning had they been written during the season, rather than after the NCAA tournament started. And the Big East does have a Final Four team, which is more than any other BCS conference other than the SEC can say.

Meanwhile, back at what VCU has done, consider this is a team that lost by 10 to Georgia State, by 11 to Northeastern and just a month ago dropped four of five with losses to Old Dominion, George Mason, James Madison and Drexel.

The Rams, in fact, have lost 11 games this year, though they've also won 28, which means that their Final Four game Saturday will be their 40th of the season.

And that 40th game will be against Butler, which means that one of those two will have to be in the championship game.

And somewhat amazingly, VCU has turned Butler into a team that almost nobody is going to root for come Saturday.

So who's your favorite player on VCU anyway? You have to like Bradford Burgess and Jamie Skeen, who basically carried them offensively the last two games, but you have to love Joey Rodriguez, the point guard generously listed as 5' 10". And then there's the head coach, Shaka Smart, who much like Butler coach Brad Stevens, always reacts as if everything that's going on is exactly how he wants it.

Add it all up, and the Final Four is a team from the Big East (UConn) against a team from the SEC (Kentucky) and a team from the Horizon (Butler) against a team from the Colonial (VCU).

There are no No. 1 seeds, or No. 2 seeds for that matter. There's a three, a four, an eight and an 11, one that would have been a 12 had the field not expanded (and one that was blasted by many for being in the tournament in the first place).

The Horizon League? The Colonial?

Does that mean an Ivy League team could have made such a run?

Well, Butler beat the No. 1 seed (Pitt), the No. 2 seed (Florida) and the No. 4 seed (Wisconsin) in its region, as well as No. 9 Old Dominion in the first game. VCU's wins were over the other No. 11, No. 6, No. 3, No. 10 and then No. 1.

Could Princeton have done something like that?

Princeton, as everyone knows, lost by two points to Kentucky in the first round of the tournament. Kentucky then beat West Virginia by eight, top-seed Ohio State by two and second-seed North Carolina by seven.

On the one hand, it's true that Princeton played Kentucky as close as anyone in the tournament. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Princeton could have run through West Virginia, Ohio State and UNC.

Then again, it's hard to believe that VCU did it.

A year ago, Cornell reached the Sweet 16, though TigerBlog continues to hold onto his firm belief - and grudge - that it was because of equal parts ability (Cornell had a great team), experience (the Big Red was senior dominated) and luck (the draw gave them Temple and Wisconsin, two teams that aren't quite the 2011 Kentucky team that Princeton played and nothing close to the 1998 Michigan State team Princeton played in the second round).

To get on the roll, you have to do just that - get on a roll. The VCU team that built a huge lead against Kansas and then turned it back on after the Jayhawks looked like they were going to storm all the way back was, TB assumes, a much different team than the one that lost four of five a month ago.

And the great thing about the tournament is that you don't have to win four of seven against a team. All you need is that one win. And with each one comes a greater sense of confidence.

On the women's side, Princeton wasn't looking so good after its loss to Georgetown, except now it looks much better since the Hoyas blew away Maryland in the second round and barely lost to UConn yesterday, falling by five.

So could Princeton's men have made the same kind of move had it gotten past Kentucky that VCU and Butler did?

Hey, did VCU think it was going to? Butler? Probably not.

It's not easy, but thanks to the Rams and Bulldogs, it's certainly doable.

Maybe an Ivy League team will be able to do the same one day.

In the meantime, Princeton can feel pretty better about its NCAA performances - both of them - based on what its opponents have since done.

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