VCU silences critics with amazing run to Final Four

Virginia Commonwealth Rams guard Joey Rodriguez (C) holds up the NCAA Southwest Regional Champion trophy next to head coach Shaka Smart after defeating Kansas Jayhawks in their NCAA Southwest Regional college basketball game in San Antonio, Texas, March 27, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

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When Virginia Commonwealth’s name was called on Selection Sunday, there were more than a few eyebrows raised across the country. ESPN’s Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps and Hubert Davis even spent a few minutes railing on the inclusion of VCU (and UAB). In fairness, they weren’t arguing that the Rams weren’t a solid team, or even that they weren’t capable of making a run to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8, just that their resume wasn’t as good as those of Virginia Tech or Colorado.

But that didn’t stop VCU head coach Shaka Smart from using their words to motivate his team. The Rams had an especially tough road to the Final Four, and were underdogs in each and every game they played. It’s not like this was some underachieving team from the Big East. The Rams finished fourth (fourth!) in the Colonial Athletic Association, so their run to the Final Four truly came out of nowhere. Along the way, they’ve beaten five power conferences: USC (Pac-10), Georgetown (Big East), Purdue (Big Ten), Florida St. (ACC) and yesterday’s monumental upset of #1-seeded Kansas (Big 12).

And it’s not like these wins were nailbiters, either. Sure, the FSU game went into overtime, but they upended USC by 13, Georgetown and Purdue by 18 and Kansas by 10. They didn’t just beat these teams. They pounded them.

How did VCU do it? Despite being outrebounded on average by more than seven boards, the Rams combined stingy defense with the great tournament equalizer, the three-pointer. Try this stat on for size: In five games, VCU has shot better from three-point range (44%) than their opponents have shot from the field (39%). What’s amazing about the Rams’ hot shooting is that on the season, they made just 36% from long range.

America loves an underdog story and with VCU set to square off against Butler in the Final Four, we’re guaranteed that a mid-major will play in the title game for the second straight season.

That’s the great thing about a sudden-death tournament. And Muscle Milk would like to remind us that on any given day, the little guy can win.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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