“Rock, Chalk, Championship”

We have made it to the final weekend of college basketball.

New Orleans is the place to be, for those that are stuck watching CBS, hopefully they don’t use the SkyCam shot too much, and hopefully Jim Nantz doesn’t force his ‘non-scripted’ sayings into the broadcast.

On one side of the bracket you have a bitter instate rivalry, Louisville vs Kentucky. Being from Louisville I have to list Louisville first, Kentucky can not be first when you list these two teams. One the other side Ohio State and Kansas face off for the right to play in the last college game of the season.

The College Basketball world is focused on New Orleans, it will be a sea of red and blue. (Google Images)

Back on December 10 Kansas defeated the Buckeyes 78-67, Thomas Robinson led Kansas with 21 points and 7 rebounds, however Jared Sullinger was out for the Buckeyes with an injury.

The Jayhawks are making their 14th Final Four appearance, they are one of six schools to appear in the Final Four at least 10 times, Kentucky and Ohio State are also on this list.

Here are a few reasons why the Jayhawks might cut down the nets on Monday. Kansas has out rebounded 29 of their 37 opponents, shot a higher percentage than 34 teams. In all of their games this season six different players have led the team in scoring, so they do not rely on one player to provide the spark. The Jayhawks have won 11 Final Four games (6th best in college basketball).

Thomas Robinson was named the ESPN.com 2012 National Player of the Year, is a First-Team All-American as well as Big 12 Player of the Year. With 17.7 ppg and 11.8 rpg, Robinson is the only player in the Big 12 that is averaging a double-double. Tyshawn Taylor has scored 20 or more points in five of his last nine games. The downside for Kansas, they are 2-4 in the Superdome.

If you are a fan can this Final Four be any better? You are in New Orleans, you have Kentucky and Kansas, two programs that have fans that are everywhere and travel well. You have the Louisville fans that flock to destinations to watch the Cardinals and you have Ohio State wanting to prove that the Big Ten is a power basketball conference.


It’s happening. Mother of God, it’s happening

It started in 1983 in the NCAA Mideast Regional. This is much bigger.

-It took awhile to fathom what I’m writing. What you’re about to read.

For those around my age, we all heard from our parents about the 1983 Dream Game. Louisville, a team that had pined to play Kentucky for so long, got their shot because they met in the Mideast Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals came out on top 80-68 in overtime in Knoxville. I didn’t even have to look any of that up, I swear.

We all heard about 1984, a Kentucky win, as well, in the NCAA Tournament. Those were great games, but it all pales in comparison to what we’re about to witness.

Louisville and Kentucky are about to meet in the Final Four.

Take a second and think about it. Think about all the times anyone hoped this could happen, then shook it off.

It’s happening.

In my (incredibly biased) opinion, Kentucky and Louisville is the best rivalry in college basketball. I’ll spare the details, because that’s not why I’m writing this. But it’s happening.

Two of the top 10 programs in college basketball history, interstate rivals, a bitter hatred among the coaches, the whole nine. There are too many moments in the past that define this rivalry. The Dream Game, Samaki Walker’s triple-double, Pitino’s return to Rupp, Patrick Spark’s three free throws, Edgar Sosa’s 3-pointer saving a near-collapse. Anyone who has paid any attention to these two teams has a moment.

And now it’s happening on the biggest stage of college basketball. In a city that thrives on things getting totally out-of-hand.

And that city thought the BCS National Title Game was insane.

The two fanbases need no more motivation to hate one another. Both teams, while they’ll deny it until the end, now have more motivation.

While most expected Kentucky to be in this position, no one saw Louisville coming. A 4-seed and a generous West Region allowed it to happen.

No matter which way you slice it, Kentucky looks like a heavy favorite, and it should be. The no. 1-overall seed is there for a reason. Louisville has nothing to lose, which also makes them dangerous.

But none of that matters this week. The city of Louisville is about to explode. Sports talk radio will talk about nothing else. If you’re a supervisor, don’t expect anyone to get much work done. And if you doubt that this rivalry is one of the tops in college basketball, I invite you to go to Youtube and explore, it won’t  take much time.

I could never imagine this ever happening in my lifetime.

It’s about to. Good Lord is it ever.

-PHOTO: RIVALS.COM/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


Where have all the loyalties gone?

Some random and some not so random thoughts while working on videos, and the NIT and CBI on in the background.

Rare news came out, Shaka Smart is going to stay with VCU and not go after the bigger dollar amounts that were probably being thrown toward him, and rumor is over $2 million per season. It’s easy to sit in the arm-chair say what you would do if you were in the situation, but until you really are it is hard to say what you would do. With Smart staying it provides a little light of commitment in a sport that is full of jumping ship when dollar signs arrive at your door.

Coaches are not the only ones that are moving on, Athletic Directors are doing so as well. Western Kentucky AD Ross Bjork, in his 2nd year in Bowling Green, left for the greener and deeper pockets of the SEC and Ole Miss. The athletic program seems to be a feeder for the SEC, Dennis Felton to Georgia and was fired in the middle of the 2008-09 season. Darrin Horn took the Sweet 16 run from the Hilltoppers to South Carolina and was fired after this season.

Coaches are getting fired with large buyouts. Look at Horn, his buyout was around 2$.5 million (sorry assistant coaches). For a program like South Carolina, they felt that they would rather pay the money and hope to boost revenue to cover their loss. (I would guess ticket prices are probably going to be going up). With commitments constantly being broken is it any surprise that players are doing the same?

In a time where people in all professions jump at more money, Shaka Smart turned down a large offer from Illinois to stay at VCU.(Google Images)

Every year you hear the stories of players that have committed to play for a coach who was fired, or left the school ask for a release from their commitment or current players ask for a transfer. The argument always comes up, are the players committing to play for a coach or for the school? I used to say school, but recently turned to the thought process that they are choosing a coach that fits their style of play.

UConn’s big man Alex Oriakhi plans on transferring because of possible sanctions from the NCAA due to the programs low APR scores. His father told media members in Connecticut that the reason for the transfer is “because of the Tournament.” The NCAA has aided the student-athletes in this situation, if a program is banned, the player can transfer and not sit out a year. So if a student-athlete is with a program that is not meeting APR standards a kid can leave with no punishment, even if he was on the roster for the teams with the low grades.

Next you have the “one and done” players, those that enroll for the one year of college that the NBA now requires players to complete. These players in my opinion have ruined the game, yes they are great players and are fun to watch, but are they really good for college sports?

College basketball is a business, I understand that, and for some schools it is the money-maker. The phrase, “money talks” is true, I have no problem with coaches, AD’s or anyone taking the larger offers, I’m sure I would do the same. I’m still undecided how I feel about the ‘one and done players” I really wish the NBA would add a rule like MLB, players can be drafted after their junior season if they don’t go pro out of high school.  I am sure of one thing, I am glad to know that there are some people like Coach Smart and Brad Stephens at Buter who are willing to stick with the schools that have given them the opportunities that they have had.

Enjoy the tournament tomorrow!


Four Best Games of the Round of 16

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament gave us a lot of surprises, but will the Final Four teams be a surprise? We will find out by Sunday, but first let me preview the four match-ups I’m most excited for.

ImageNo. 7 Florida vs. No. 3 Marquette: These two teams are probably the best two teams nobody has been talking about during the tournament. I didn’t have either of these squads getting this far, but they have really impressed thus far. Jae Crowder put up 25 points and 16 rebounds one game and 17 points and 13 rebounds the next for Marquette — he has officially reached beast mode status. Florida hasn’t played the same type of competition as Marquette has, as they have blown out Virginia and Norfolk State, but in the NCAA Tournament you have to respect any blowout win. I think Crowder will be too much for the Gators though, and the Golden Eagles make the Elite Eight.

No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 1 Michigan State: This is perhaps the best coaching battle of the round, as we have Rick Pitno and Tom Izzo going up against each other. The two have combined for 11 Final Four appearances, and I think the winner of this game will be able to beat the Florida-Marquette winner. Both teams have peaked at the right time, but I think the Cardinals still have too many question marks. If Gorgui Dieng gets into foul trouble again or if Peyton Siva is inconsistent with his shot again, then the Spartans should win this one easily.

No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 1 Kentucky: The rematch everyone has been waiting for will be here Friday night. Kentucky has cruised through their first two rounds, backed off of strong performances from Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague. Last time the Hoosiers were able to beat the Wildcats, they were able to get Anthony Davis in quick foul trouble, and Jones was basically nonexistent. Don’t expect that to happen again. Jones and Teague will be the wild-cards for UK — if they are playing to their full potential I’m not sure if anyone in the country can beat them.

No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Syracuse: This is the one I’m most excited for. I love match-ups with teams of contrasting styles, and that’s exactly what this is. The Orangemen are as fun and exciting as a team as there is to watch in college basketball, and the Badgers simply aren’t, but their defense can stifle opponents. I agree with my counterpart, David Harten, in thinking that the Wisconsin style of play will throw Syracuse off too much, giving them the upset.


Wisconsin is boring — painfully so — but they’ll make the Final Four

Wisconsin has a point guard in Jordan Taylor who doesn't give the ball up...and it sucks to watch. But they could crash the Final Four.

-Bo Ryan is a boring coach. His offenses are boring. His defenses? Boring. One can compare watching his Wisconsin teams to watching paint dry, or getting rusty nails shoved up your eyelids.

It’s almost painful to watch the Badgers. They average 58.8 possession per game according to Ken Pomeroy and his fool-proof numbers. That’s (ahem) the second slowest pace of any team of all 345 programs in Division I college basketball — the only team slower being Western Illinois.

The snail’s pace offense that Ryan has Wisconsin run amounts to 64 points per game, also near the bottom of all D-I teams. It’s excruciating.

But this is just one of the reasons Wisconsin will be a Final Four team. Yea, I said it. Here’s why.

1.) The painfully slow offensive sets.

-The Badgers are a slow-down offense. In a time when patience is a virtue, this team makes it a demand. Being able to run means jack in the NCAA Tournament. Any team that makes the Sweet 16, as Wisconsin now has, can run the fast-break. That’s what elite teams can do. They all have top-tier point guards that can run (I could run through them all, but you can look if you want).

What wins games though? Having the awareness that while the other team wants to pressure you defensively, knowing you’re just content swinging the ball around the perimeter and waiting for the right time to feed the post. It’s a necessity.

2.) A ball-securing point guard.

-Turnovers lose games for teams at this level. Wisconsin has possibly the most reliable point guard in the game when it comes to keeping possession. Jordan Taylor is not only a senior who’s been in this position before (played in 135 career games), but he knows what to do while in it.

The most important thing? Taylor has absolutely no clue how to make the risky pass. That’s a compliment. Along with averaging an even 4.0 assists this season, the 6-1 senior gives it away an average of 1.5 times per game. In 2011-12, he has just 55 total turnovers and just 97 total over the past two seasons (he averaged 4.7 assists last season). This season, he’s got 141 assists as well. In the clutch, you can have your playmakers, for my money, I want a guy who knows not only that a team needs points, but that they need the ball, before they can score.

Speaking of which….

3.) You don’t take their ball.

-Taylor is a major reason for this, but Wisconsin doesn’t give it away very often. In fact, the Badgers only cough it up 15.2 times per game, second in the nation. In big games, holding onto the ball means just as much as having a guy who can score in any way you need.  They also know how to keep it from you in the 1-on-1, giving it away  on steals only 7.2 times per game, eighth in the nation.

4.) Defense, defense, defense.

-Wisconsin doesn’t just guard you, no, they suffocate you. It’s in the numbers. Checking KenPom.com can really shed some light on it. The Badgers are top 10 in the nation in effective defensive field goal percentage (2nd, 42-percent), 3-point percentage defense (6th, 28.8-percent) and 2-point percentage defense (5th, 41.6-percent). Being that consistent means that you’re doing it right against all levels of competition.

They don’t necessarily force turnovers — they only force an average of 18.3 per game — but if their opponents don’t make shots, that doesn’t matter.

They aren’t flashy, and honestly, they make a lot of crowds that aren’t decked out in their colors want to fall asleep while watching them. But if the opponent is asleep, hey, who can stop them? Another advantage?

-PHOTO: DRAFTXPRESS.COM/GOOGLE IMAGES

 


How Kendall Marshall’s injury affects the Tar Heels, individually (duh)

Without Kendall Marshall's 9.8 assist-gasm per game, UNC's scorers will be forced to transform their games a little bit.

-Ok, obvious headline. But all I keep hearing about is how North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall’s fractured wrist will affect the team as a whole. No one, however, has addressed exactly how.

Sure, this means one of the top distributors in the nation won’t be dishing out assists if he doesn’t play against Ohio — which by all accounts, is a winnable game without him, which is why I believe they save him for the Elite 8 — but what does it limit the Tar Heels main bigs/shooters from doing? A quick look.

Tyler Zeller (16.4 ppg, 55.4-percent from the field): By-in-large, Zeller has been the model of consistency for UNC this season. He’s a definite when it comes to ball distribution in the post (it has to go through him, a la David Padgett for Louisville from 2005-08) but it’s when he gets the ball down low, he does his best work to put it in. Zeller is hardly a face-up guy, which means he lives to get the feeds. Without a penetrate-and-dish PG like Marshall, Zeller will have to learn to possibly live 10-to-15 feet from the basket and use the mid-range jumper he’s slowly developed, or expect double-teams all night.

Harrison Barnes (17.3 ppg, 45.0-percent): By far the one player on the squad who will miss Marshall the least, should he not play. Barnes is nearly NBA-ready with the ability and size to slash in the lane and also create his own shot off the dribble. He doesn’t need Marshall to create for him, but it doesn’t hurt. He does however, benefit probably the most from the defensive collapses that Marshall draws on his forays to the bucket. Barnes will have to create more if Marshall doesn’t play, which could also shine some much-needed light on whether or not this is his final season in Chapel Hill.

James Michael McAdoo (5.8 ppg, 45.5-percent): He’s almost a Barnes-light. He does what the Super Sophomore does, only to a lesser-experienced extent. McAdoo needs Marshall because frankly, he goes off what the floor general tells him. Expect him to take more set shots, if for no other reason, because he’s not going to be able to move much with the ball.

John Henson (13.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 50.3-percent): As if it wasn’t bad enough when Henson when down with a wrist injury of his own, now this. Henson has since returned, but while he’s mainly a defensive presence, he’s the soundest on the court for UNC when it comes to acting on the Pick-And-Roll and knowing when to cut to the hoop for a Marshall pass (hence, the dude gets a ton of put-back slams with his insane length). Henson will have to get on the same page with freshman point-man Stilman White quickly or just hope for a lot of second-chance dunks.

Reggie Bullock (8.7 ppg, 42.8-percent): He’s in the same boat as his freshman cohort, James Michael McAdoo, but he lives in the post. Look for Bullock to become the garbage man. He’s going to be looking for a lot of second-chance points, a lot of free throws. Just whatever he can get.

UNC can survive without Marshall, but that means to key players for the Heels will be forced to take on new roles. Roles that could mean if they make a run to the title without Marshall (again, he hasn’t been ruled out yet) it could be a greater run than last year’s UConn team to the ‘ship.

-PHOTO: NATIONOFBLUE.COM/GOOGLE IMAGES


Five stats that might help you win your bracket pool

Bo Ryan's Wisconsin team is tops in two of The Backboard Chronicle's five stats-to-help-you-win, and third in another. But jeez, that offense.

-Everyone has method to their March Madness. Picking the best mascot, the colors they like, seeing which treat your dog goes after first. Some of us who go deeper with (over-think) our picks have a slightly more structured way of making our decisions on who advances in our brackets.

For those of you who haven’t locked in picks just yet, here’s a list of stats that can help you pick or not pick certain teams in the Big Dance. Thanks to the glories of KenPom.com, RealTimeRPI.com and Statsheet.com. These stats are essential to great teams in the NCAA Tournament. Trust us, we’re experts, sorta.

For obvious reasons, these stats aren’t just ‘points’ ‘rebounds’ and ‘field goal percentage’ because that’s too damn easy and obviously has an effect, but vary from game-to-game. These statistics you’ll see below have been consistent with winning all season and can go unnoticed.

1.) STATISTIC: Three-Point Defense

REASON: Aside from being scrappy last season, all four Final Four teams in 2010-11 had one thing in common, they could stroke the three. So you better damn will be able to defend it well to stop a squad who can. This also means a team has guard length, lateral quickness and is disciplined — no lunging in desperation while on the ball — when guarding a guy 20-feet out.

BEST REMAINING TEAM: No. 3-seed Georgetown, 26.6% (Best the nation)

2.) STATISTIC: Adjusted Tempo

REASON: This is a KenPom stat, but it’s crucial. It’s based on the number of possessions a team gets per game and if you ask anyone that knows the game, if a team can’t slow down and play a game in the half-court, a team won’t go very far/as far as they were projected. A perfect example is Kentucky in 2009-10. Despite being the best in the nation on the break, John Wall and Co. were slowed by West Virginia in the Elite 8, and succumbed as a result.

BEST REMAINING TEAM: Wisconsin, 58.9 possessions per game. (Best in the nation)

3.) STATISTIC: Assist-to-Turnover Ratio

REASON: Ok, so it’s not the least obvious stat, but it often gets forgotten that teams’ guards have to take care of the ball, especially in clutch situations. Experience means nothing if Point Guard X is dribbling the ball off his foot down two with less than a minute to play. It makes a coach trust his floor general, and relaxes the rest of the players on the floor. It goes way past just being able to make the play.

BEST REMAINING PLAYER: Kyle Cassidy, St. Louis, 3.6 A-T-T Ratio. (Best in the nation)

4.) STATISTIC: Free Throw Percentage

REASON: How many times per tournament does a game come down to free throws? A-freakin’-lot. Make sure the team has a solid percentage from the stripe, or else it could mean curtains for your dark horse Sweet 16 pick.

BEST REMAINING TEAM: Wisconsin, 81.8% (Best in the nation). Also, second in the nation? Harvard at 81%.

5.) STATISTIC: Percentage of Points for 2-Pts

REASON: Weird right? Why would it matter that a team gets most of their points from inside the arc? Because any team that relies on the three to win games rarely makes it THAT far. That’s why they’re called a “Cinderella Story”. A team that can penetrate and get it inside can make teams collapse, then open up the outside shot. It’s more than just scoring down there, it’s also about creating for the three.

BEST REMAINING TEAM: LIU-Brooklyn, 62.1% (Best in the nation). For safety’s sake the No. 2 is Duke (61.5%) and No. 3 is Wisconsin (60.4%).

Those few stats can help increase your bracket efficiency, maybe. We also learned that Wisconsin should win the whole friggin’ thing, according to our research. I’m going to redo my bracket now.

-PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS/GOOGLE IMAGES


Cincinnati, low to high this season

December 10, 2011 marked a day that many college basketball fans in Cincinnati want to forget. With 9.4 seconds left in the game in the Crosstown Shootout a fight broke out causing the officials to end the game. The video that everyone viewed many times was one that showed a few punches being thrown by Yancy Gates.

It would have been easy for Mick Cronin to kick Gates off the team as well as others involved in the brawl. Instead Gates received a six game suspension, and the Bearcats were thought to be in trouble, pretty much left for dead with non-conference losses to Presbyterian, Marshall (in OT) and Xavier, most of those fears were valid.

Yancy Gates shows his emotions after serving his six game suspension (Google Images)

A quote from Cronin that sticks out to me from the fight is one that should have foreshadowed the support he was going to give his players: “I understand there is media and people asking for autographs. It’s a prime example of you guys thinking they are too important. I’m talking about everybody involved. There’s too much glorification of all of sports in our society. The fact is guys are here the get an education. They represent institutions of higher learning. Xavier has been a great school for years. We’re trying to cure cancer at Cincinnati. I go to school at a place where they discovered the vaccine for polio and created Benadryl. I think that’s more important than who wins a basketball game. And our guys need to have appreciation for the fact that they are there on a full scholarship and they better represent institutions with class and integrity.”

Cronin understands the college basketball concept, they are called student-athletes for a reason, and they are there to learn. They learn not only for basketball but for a career off the court and to learn about life. Gates learned that his actions were not appropriate; he suffered the consequences and learned that he has the support of his coach.

The team pulled together, won seven in a row before dropping a road contest at St. John’s then pulled another three victories. Since the fight the Bearcats are 19-6, just pulled off the biggest win of the season vs Syracuse and are one win away from claiming the Big East Tournament Championship. Let me say that again, Cincinnati can win the Big East Tournament, after those early losses and the fight most Bearcat fans would have laughed at you if you told back in December that they would be in this position in March.

Coming into tonight’s game Gates is averaging 12.3 points and 9.4 rebounds in 32 minutes, with 9 double-doubles. In the double OT win over Georgetown he played 46 minutes, put up 23 points and grabbed 8 boards. In the opener against Villanova he had 16 points and 9 off the glass. Tonight Yates went for 18 points and 7 rebounds.

The Bearcats stuck with Gates, and Gates has stepped up to the plate and has become the type of player Cincinnati needs to advance in the tournament.


Cuonzo Martin deserves all the credit for Tennessee’s run

Don’t look now, but the Tennessee Volunteers are creeping up the ranks as a possible bubble team for the NCAA Tournament.

Cuonzo Martin has been a big reason for the recent success of Tennessee. And he certainly wears the orange jacket better than Bruce Pearl did.

Winners of eight of their last nine games, Tennessee found a way to grab the No. 2 seed for the Southeastern Conference Tournament, despite five teams lower than them having better overall records.

With a strong finish to the regular season, including wins at Florida and at home over Vanderbilt — two locks for the tournament — the Volunteers have surprised a lot of people under first-year coach Cuzono Martin.

Nobody expected this for the Vols — many thought they would dwell in the cellar of the SEC. After early season losses to Austin Peay, Charleston and Oakland, that prediction seemed likely.

But something changed, all it took was a 69-44 blowout victory to national title perennial favorite Kentucky to put a spark into this team, as they have just lost once since that game at the end of January. Sweeping the season series with the Gators and beating the Commodores shockingly gave them the tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed in the SEC.

This year’s Vols don’t necessarily have the star power they have had in the past, with Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris both leaving early after last season’s drama involving Bruce Pearl. But they have had a couple guys come out of nowehere to provide big lifts. Trae Golden, a guy who averaged all of three points a game last year, is currently leading Tennessee in scoring with 13.4 per game. He posted 17 points in each of the most recent Florida and Vanderbilt games.

Jeronne Maymon, in his second season at Tennessee after transferring from Marquette, has seen his minutes increase from just 9.1 last year to 27.8 this year. He has been the main post-presence for the Vols, averaging 12.6 and 7.8 a game. He picked it up when it counted too, scoring at least 12 points in every SEC game.

Perhaps the best player of the three is Jarnell Stokes, who came to Tennesee in January after graduating high school early. In his first start, he posted 16 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in an upset win over UConn. He’s scored in double figures six times this season, and is still just two months removed from his 18th birthday. Stokes has perhaps been the wild card on this team, as they have lost just three times since his first start nearly two months ago. He has quickly become one of the best freshman in the conference this side of Lexington.

What Martin has done this year in his first year at Tennessee coach is pretty remarkable, considering they lost 70 percent of their scoring from last year. They have had unknowns step up big, and that takes a special kind of coach to make that happen.

Those bad early season losses won’t go away, however, and that’s what will hurt Tennessee the most when it comes time to determine if they are good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament. But with those big conference wins, as well as the non-conference win over Connecticut, things are looking good in Knoxville.

They aren’t in yet, but a win or two in the SEC Tournament this weekend will surely help their cause. They’ve got Ole Miss on Friday, a team they beat 73-60 last month. If they win that one they will likely play Vanderbilt, who they beat just last weekend. They are on the outside looking in at the moment, but that can change this weekend. And don’t be surprised if they keep on with their surprises.


The true genius of VCU’s season, all credit to Shaka Smart

Shaka Smart has rebuilt VCU, replacing four starters of last season's Final Four team, with better results to this point, compared to last year.

-Think back to last season. About this time, Virginia Commonwealth was an afterthought.

Really, who saw the run coming? Definitely not Jay Bilas. But it happened. A team with a younger-than-young head coach, a diminutive point guard in Joey Rodriguez somehow snagged an at-large bid that a lot of folks (myself included) thought they were undeserving of and made it through the First Four and into the Final Four. It was more improbable than Butler’s first run.

Then it ended. The Rams lost four of their top five scorers — Rodriguez, Jamie Skeen, Ed Nixon and Brandon Rozzell — the lone hold being now-senior Bradford Burgess. So coach Shaka Smart had to ask himself the most crucial question coming off the most successful season in program history, that included a 28-12 overall record: Where do we go from here?

The answer was ‘get better’. Obvious, but accurate.

VCU just locked up their second-straight NCAA Tournament, and this one probably won’t begin in the First Four, with a 28-6 record and a Colonial Athletic Association tournament title. They’re currently no.46 in the KenPom and no.39 spot in the RPI (according to RealTimeRPI.com). That’s nice, until you consider that they finished last season ranked 52 in the KenPom.

It’s tough to make the run the Rams did last season. It’s tougher to repeat that run when everyone knows you’re coming. It’s nearly impossible to do it when you’ve lost most of everyone that mattered to that run to graduation. Smart has done that so far.

He’s had help. Burgess has actually lightened his scoring load from 14.3 to 13.3 points per game this season and in turn, some of last season’s role players have stepped it up. Darius Theus went from 3.0 points to 8.6 this year. Juvonte Reddic? He’s now pumping out 10.6 points per game in 27.5 minutes per game after averaging 3.5 in 11.2 minutes in 2010-11. Troy Daniels drops in 10 per game after averaging 2.1 points in 4.8 minutes last season.

Granted, all teams get contributions from lesser players as seasons change. But not like this, not at a mid-major that until this past season hasn’t had any buzz outside of a few Metro Conference and Sun Belt Conference tournament titles.

This team does it more with their defense, averaging three less points (68.4 from 71.6) this season and holding opponents to 59.8 points per game, as opposed to the 66.8 teams put in against them in 2010-11.

So here they are waiting for Selection Sunday, not to see if they get a bid, but where they go. CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm has them as a 12-seed in Portland playing Louisville.

You don’t have to expect a deep tournament run, but you should respect what Smart and the Rams have done, despite starting essentially from scratch.

-PHOTO:VCUATHLETICS.COM


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