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Teel Time: Stronger schedule, Atlantic 10 forged VCU for NCAA tournament

College SportsVirginia Commonwealth RamsCollege FootballAtlantic 10 ConferenceNCAABig East ConferenceTemple Owls

VCU enters the NCAA tournament with a 26-8 record, not quite as glossy as last season, when the Rams were 28-6. Yet VCU is a No. 5 seed, light years better than last year’s No. 12.

Coach Shaka Smart knows why.

“A lot of people don’t talk about this, but the No. 1 reason we have a much better seed is because we played a much better schedule,” Smart said Tuesday as the Rams prepared for Thursday’s opening NCAA game against Akron in suburban Detroit.

Much better in every respect.

First, VCU upgraded conferences last summer, leaving the Colonial Athletic Association for the Newport News-based Atlantic 10. This season, none of the CAA’s 11 teams are among the top 100 in the Rating Percentage Index. Ten of the A-10’s 16 squads are.

Second, Smart scheduled stronger non-league opponents. The Rams played quality “mid-majors” such as Lehigh, Belmont and Wichita State, the latter two of which are in the NCAA field. Most important, they competed in a Bahamas tournament against Memphis, Duke and Missouri, all of which made the NCAA tournament.

The following numbers speak volumes.

In 2011, VCU was among the last teams selected to the NCAA field. The eventual national semifinalists were a No. 11 seed, with a No. 85 strength-of-schedule, No. 113 non-conference schedule. They were 3-6 against the top 50, 10-8 versus the top 100.

Last season as a 12 seed, VCU’s schedule ratings were 154 and 147. The Rams were 0-1 versus the top 50, 6-4 against the top 100.

This year, VCU is 3-7 versus the top 50, 12-8 against the top 100. The Rams’ schedule rankings are 33rd overall and 44th non-conference.

“A lot is said about the (NCAA) selection committee,” Smart said, “but those guys spend a lot of time. They look at these teams’ resumes inside and out, and maybe you can debate the last couple picks in the at-large field, but they know what they’re doing.

“Our schedule this year, between our non-conference schedule and obviously our Atlantic 10 schedule. It’s the best regular-season schedule that VCU’s ever played. With the number of top 100, top 50 teams that we were able to play, we won our share of them, that’s why we’re a five seed.”

Five A-10 teams made the NCAA field – regular season and tournament champion Saint Louis, Butler, Temple and LaSalle are the others. That’s two more than the Southeastern Conference, one more than the ACC, and as many as the Big 12 and Pacific 12.

But it’s unclear whether the A-10 can maintain that level. For football reasons, Temple is headed to the old Big East, Charlotte to Conference USA. Those moves were known prior to the season.

Now, after weeks of speculation, Butler and A-10 staple Xavier appear ready, along with the Missouri Valley’s Creighton, to confirm their intentions to join the so-called Catholic 7 in a new Big East. Our parent paper, the Chicago Tribune, reports the announcement will come Wednesday in New York.

Moreover, various media have reported Saint Louis and A-10 colleagues Dayton and Richmond as possible future targets of the new Big East.

“If there are going to be realignment impacts that would affect the league, then we have to be ready to make the next-best decision,” A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said earlier this month. “That’s my job, to make sure that the A-10 stays as strong as possible. I feel like it’s been my daily work for the last 28 months (of rampant realignment), to be honest with you.”

VCU, Saint Joseph’s, LaSalle, Massachusetts and perhaps Richmond will provide the future A-10 a solid core, but the depth that so elevated the Rams and others this season could well vanish.

That conference depth and the rugged non-league schedule figures to have forged the Rams for postseason.

“That’s the hope,” Smart said. It should make us more prepared.”

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including Wednesday's on Smart and Akron coach Keith Dambrot.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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