VCU the most improbable Final Four team ever

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SAN ANTONIO

Call the roll of Final Four gate-crashers. Butler. George Mason. Penn. Indiana State.

Recount their upsets, harrowing finishes and, yes, miracles.

None matches VCU. Virginia Commonwealth University for the basketball-impaired.

The Rams on Sunday advanced to the Final Four by conquering Kansas 71-61 in the NCAA tournament's Southwest Regional championship game at the Alamodome.

They are the most improbable national semifinalist ever. Yes, ever.

"What can you say?" VCU forward Ed Nixon said. "It's amazing."

Amazing, indeed.

First, consider the Rams' regular season. They finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association, a league that while unappreciated, is not the Big East, Big Ten or Big 12.

Fourth! The CAA's first Final Four squad, George Mason in 2006, shared first place that year.

Now ponder VCU's path. Courtesy of an expanded bracket, the Rams are the first team that needed five victories to reach the Final Four.

Five Ws in 12 days. VCU had won five NCAA tournament games in the previous 30 years.

"I thought we had a chance to make some noise," Rams guard Bradford Burgess said of his team's tournament prospects.

Noise? Sure, why not?

VCU had beaten UCLA, Old Dominion, George Mason and Wichita State, quality opponents all. And the Rams absolutely belonged in the field, the bleating of Dick Vitale and Co., notwithstanding.

But the Rams, the Southwest's No. 11 seed, haven't made "some noise." They've broken the sound barrier.

Since March 16, VCU has dispatched Southern California by 13 points, Georgetown by 18, Purdue by 18, Florida State by one and Kansas by 10. Those victims hail from five of the six major conferences: Pacific 10, Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12.

Most impressive: Check out those margins. No double-digit seed in tournament history had won more than two games by as much.

"We made history here," said Shaka Smart, VCU's 33-year-old coach, "winning five games, going to the Final Four, and as I said (to fans) out there on the floor, 'We're not done yet.' "

For a moment Sunday, Smart's Rams (28-11) appeared done. Top-seeded Kansas (35-3) had slashed an 18-point deficit to two, and Smart had blown a gasket protesting a call, earning a technical foul.

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