Paupers ruled state college basketball last season. While princes Virginia and Virginia Tech watched from afar, a record five teams from the commonwealth — Hampton, Old Dominion, Richmond, George Mason and, most famously, VCU — made the NCAA tournament.
When compared to major-conference programs such as Tech and U.Va., all are modestly financed. But that disparity wasn't evident in March, when three of the five advanced, with Richmond reaching the regional semifinals, VCU the Final Four.
As the new year and full-time conference play approaches, this season's script has flipped. The rich are back in charge.
Not to suggest the Cavaliers and Hokies should bank on their first NCAA bids since 2007. Nothing is certain when the tournament selection committee gathers, and Seth Greenberg has the scars to prove it.
But Virginia is 10-1 and should be no worse than 12-2 when Miami visits for the ACC opener Jan. 6. Tech is 9-3, and all three losses were to teams ranked among the top 25 by CollegeRPI.com, Syracuse, Kansas State and Minnesota.
Those rankings mirror the Rating Percentage Index used by the selection committee, and while early, the Cavaliers and Hokies should be encouraged by their respective RPI numbers, 26 and 50.
Conversely, the only one of last season's NCAA tournament teams from the state among this season's top 100 is No. 59 VCU. And that bodes ill for the Colonial Athletic Association's chances of landing multiple teams in the 68-squad field.
Last season was the CAA's benchmark, and not just because VCU reached the Final Four. VCU, Mason and ODU gave the league three NCAA tournament teams for the first time, and six of its 12 members were among the RPI's top 100.
The RPI ranked the CAA eighth among 32 conferences last season, when league teams combined for 15 top-100 non-league wins, five by ODU. This season the CAA is 19th with only three top-100 victories: Hofstra defeated Cleveland State, VCU dusted Richmond, and George Mason beat Bucknell.
Such is life for the so-called mid-major conferences. As challenging as attaining national prominence is, sustaining it is even more daunting.
Consider the CAA. In its inaugural season, 1985-86, David Robinson-led Navy won the conference and advanced to within one game of the Final Four — Duke beat the Midshipmen in the East Regional final for coach Mike Krzyzewski's first Final Four.
But from 1999-2005, CAA teams were 1-7 in the NCAA tournament. In 2006, George Mason received an unexpected at-large bid and stunned past national champions Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut en route to the Final Four. The CAA went one-and-done in 2008 and '09 before last season's historic run.
The Newport News-based Atlantic 10 — hey, if the Big East can add San Diego State and Boise State, the A-10 calling City Center home is geographic genius — has a similar history. Richmond last season gave the conference a Sweet 16 team for the fourth consecutive year, but from 2002-07, the league had only one such year — Xavier and Saint Joseph's reached the Elite Eight in 2004.
The A-10 appears poised for more postseason success, courtesy of notable non-conference victories by Xavier, Dayton and St. Louis.
Virginia's highest-rated mid-major is — drumroll, please — No. 45 Norfolk State. In the 14 previous seasons archived by CollegeRPI.com, the Spartans have never finished above No. 205, and they'll fall this season, perhaps rapidly, once they start a steady diet of low-ranked opponents in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
But Norfolk State (8-5) had impressive conquests of Drexel and Texas Christian at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, and its 6-foot-10 center, Kyle O'Quinn, has earned rave reviews.
Will the Spartans win their first MEAC championship to earn their first Division I tournament bid? Will Virginia and/or Virginia Tech prove their top-50 mettle against ACC competition? Can the commonwealth match last season's five NCAA invitations?
Yes, yes and no. Answers subject to revision in 2012.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun