VCU and the Colonial Athletic Association came oh-so-close to history this basketball season. One more stop Saturday night against Indiana, or one more three, and the Rams would have reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year.
They also would have become only the second state program to advance multiple rounds in two straight NCAAs, joining Virginia in 1983 and ’84.
But VCU scored only four points in the final 12:25 against the Hoosiers on Saturday, falling 63-61 on Will Sheehey’s baseline jumper with 13 seconds remaining — Sheehey is a nephew of former Virginia forward Tom Sheehey.
Never has the CAA been represented in the regional semifinals two straight years. In fact, by defeating Wichita State on Thursday, the Rams, a stunning Final Four squad last season, became the first CAA program to advance in back-to-back NCAAs.
In the league’s previous incarnation, the ECAC South, James Madison (1981-83) and Navy (1984-85) won tournament games in consecutive years.
VCU’s loss and the NCAA’s bypass of regular-season champion Drexel made for a disappointing week at CAA headquarters in Richmond. Moreover, the conference in general and Rams in particular are waiting to see whether VCU coach Shaka Smart is lured to higher ground such as Illinois.
“Pardon The Interruption” co-star Tony Kornheiser said on the show Monday that Smart should take the Illinois gig because the CAA, in stark contrast to the Big Ten, never receives at-large bids. He cited Drexel this year as evidence.
Now Mr. Tony is as funny as it gets on sports television and radio, and was in print during his Washington Post days, but let’s not forget that both CAA Final Four teams, George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011, made the NCAA field as at-larges.
Those Final Fours put the CAA in select company.
Among the so-called mid-major conferences, only the Horizon and CAA have winning records in the last seven NCAA tournaments combined. The Horizon is 15-9, thanks to Butler’s national-title game appearances in 2010 and ’11. The CAA is 13-11.
Conference USA would be 14-11 had Memphis’ five tournament victories in 2008 not been vacated due to rules violations.
Other mid-majors’ tournament records from 2006-12:
The West Coast is 11-12, the Missouri Valley 9-12. The Atlantic 10 is 16-18 pending Xavier’s South Regional semifinal Friday against Baylor, the Mountain West 10-19.
The Mid-American Conferenceis basking in Ohio advancing to a Midwest semifinal Friday against North Carolina, but the Bobcats’ victories over Michigan and South Florida were the MAC’s first in the tournament since Central Michigan defeated Creighton in 2003.
On the heels of Kent State making the Elite Eight in 2002, the MAC was then the toast of the mid-majors. The CAA appears well-positioned for a longer run than the MAC’s.
All-conference guard Bradford Burgess was VCU’s lone senior, and forward Samme Givens is the only senior on a Drexel team that faces Massachusetts tonight in an NIT quarterfinal. Old Dominion is perennially competitive under Blaine Taylor, and Paul Hewitt will recruit well to George Mason.
Bank on some or all of those programs embodying the conference’s slogan from a few years back:
“There is no NCAA without the CAA.”
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