VCU's March eerily similar to George Mason's run to the Final Four in 2006
NCAA Basketball Tournament - Regionals - San Antonio (Jamie Squire, Getty Images / March 25, 2011)
SAN ANTONIO —
VCU 2011, George Mason 2006.
The Patriots defeated Michigan State, North Carolina and Wichita State to reach the East Regional final against top-seeded Connecticut, two years removed from a national championship.
Relegated to a play-in game with an expanded field, the Rams have bested Southern California, Georgetown, Purdue and Florida State to make Sunday's Southwest Regional final against top-seeded Kansas, three years removed from a national title.
Mason upset Michigan State and Carolina in Dayton, Ohio. VCU beat Southern California in Dayton.
The similarities even include the regular-season BracketBuster games. The Patriots in 2006 and Rams this year both won at Wichita State.
Question is, will VCU (27-11) close the deal as Mason did?
The Patriots shocked UConn 86-84 in overtime to earn the most improbable Final Four berth ever. They are the last double-digit seed to beat a No. 1.
Like this Kansas squad, that UConn bunch included future pros, Rudy Gay being the most notable. And like the Jayhawks versus VCU, the Huskies would have battered Mason in an NBA-style, best-of-seven series.
"One of my sisters showed me something where it said Kansas now has a 44 percent chance of winning the national championship, and we have a .9 percent chance," VCU coach Shaka Smart said Saturday. "So it's kind of like the movie 'Dumb and Dumber.' 'So you're saying we've got a chance?' "
The interview room broke up at Smart's reference.
"That's how our guys are," he continued. "If we have a chance, if there's an opportunity for us to go do it, then we're going to put everything into it and we're not going to stop until that chance is zero. And there's no question right now there is an opportunity for us. …
"Make no mistake about it, our guys believe we can win. I know we can win. And that's what we're going out there to do. … Yeah, the George Mason game, I think what it does is it gives you perspective, it let's you know that underdogs can win games like that. In terms of confidence, my confidence is sky high on our team. I don't need any other games or teams to add to that confidence. I know what we can do, now it's a matter of us going out and executing the plan."
Although they were in high school at the time, the Rams appear to take pride in George Mason's Final Four, the first and only in CAA history.
"I remember watching them," point guard Joey Rodriguez said. "I remember the Connecticut game, also. It's cool they're from the same conference. I think it speaks volumes for the conference we have.
"It's a different team. We're doing it a different way. I remember they had a lot of close games. And that was really our first close game yesterday. … You can look at it for inspiration, too."
Rodriguez's history is spot-on. Mason's four tournament victories were by a combined 20 points. VCU is only the second double-digit seed to win consecutive games by 15 or more points — the Rams routed Georgetown and Purdue by 18 each.
Thanks to the expanded field, VCU is also the first team that needed four victories to reach a regional final.
"Just another mountain to climb," Rodriguez said. "Nobody has ever done it, so another chance to make history."
But Kansas (35-2) is better than Georgetown, Purdue or anyone else the Rams have encountered. Led by twins Marcus and Markieff Morris, the Jayhawks score and defend well at every position. They're deep, versatile and share the ball, and they toyed with Richmond in Friday's 77-57 semifinal victory.
"If you don't bring your A game, they're going to embarrass you out there," VCU guard Bradford Burgess said. "But with the way we've been playing, anything is possible."
Sounds like that band of Patriots five years ago.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP