Sunday, March 17, 2013

VCU is a No. 5 seed

 Shaka Smart at his first press conference at VCU in 2009.

VCU was shown some respect by the NCAA tournament selection committee, in that the Rams were placed in the South Regional as a No. 5 seed. That, in spite of VCU’s loss to Saint Louis in the final game of the Atlantic 10 tournament on Sunday afternoon: SL 62, VCU 56.

Saint Louis is a tough, well-coached team. But on Sunday afternoon VCU's head coach Shaka Smart, 35, was at a disadvantage. He had to outsmart both the Billikens’ current head coach and the ghost of their former head coach.

Jim Crews, 59, runs the show at Saint Louis. Crews is now considered a prime candidate for being named national coach of the year, because of the way he got the job and what he has done with that opportunity. His boss, the legendary Rick Majerus, died at 64 on Dec. 1, 2012. So, Crews was essentially coaching his old friend’s last team.

On defense Crews had his guards forcing Smart’s guards out further from the basket than they were comfortable being. The tactic worked like a charm to cut off angles for passing and driving with the ball. So the Rams senior point guard, Darius Theus, had a bad game. So did senior shooting guard Troy Daniels. But make no mistake, Saint Louis’ aggressive defense was what made them struggle on the court.

VCU had only five assists, so the Rams were taking tough shots and hit only 33.9 percent from the field. SL had 13 assists and shot at a 45 percent clip.

Click here to see the box sore. 

Since Saint Louis got a No. 4 seed that probably means the committee had already decided, before the game, to put the winner of the A-10 championship game at a No. 4 seed in the brackets and the loser at a No. 5. In its first match-up VCU (26-8) will face Akron (26-6), a No. 12 seed, on Thursday at 9:45 p.m. (EDT) in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

What a difference changing leagues can make. Last season, after winning its conference’s tournament -- to represent the Colonial Athletic Association in the NCAA tournament -- VCU left the CAA abruptly to join the Atlantic 10. The news from the NCAA selection committee Sunday evening underlined what a good move that was for VCU.

The A-10 not only has its conference champ in the Big Dance, four additional teams were given at-large bids. Whereas, the CAA has only one team in the hunt for the national championship, its tournament winner -- James Madison. And, the Dukes (20-14) were assigned one of the tournament’s first-round/play-in games.

Which means the CAA is apparently regarded as less than a mid-major conference in 2013. To make matters worse, next year, the CAA will lose two more members. And, the A-10 is also in a flux, with expectations that it will soon lose multiple members to the “new” Big East. So the musical chairs game of conference departures and additions is hardly letting up.

Meanwhile, there’s a tournament to be played that will end in Atlanta on April 8. Click here to see the brackets.

While directing his team in its effort to beat the Akron Zips, VCU's Smart will be facing one of his former colleagues/mentors, Keith Dambrot, the Zips head coach. For two seasons (2003-05) they were assistant coaches on the same staff at Akron. When Dambrot was promoted to head coach, Smart stayed on and assisted him for one season (2005-06).    

From here on it won’t matter what a committee or any sports pundits might think of the teams in the NCAA tournament. Only results matter. One loss ends your season, no matter who you are. If VCU defeats Akron it will face the winner of the South Dakota St. (seeded 13th) vs. Michigan (seeded 4th) game on Saturday.

Click here for a look at a report on the upcoming game at VCU's web site.

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