The Colonial Athletic Conference has sent two teams to the Final Four in the past six years. One of them, VCU, went last year and beat Wichita State en route. The other, George Mason in 2006, beat the Shockers twice that season, including in a Sweet 16 match-up in Washington, D.C.
So when it was flashed on the television screen Sunday that Wichita State was playing VCU in the NCAA Tournament, coming up Thursday in Portland, Ore., there had to be a moment of pause for Shocker fans.
VCU a 12 seed?
The Rams are 28-6. They started the season 11-5 but have won 17 of 18 since. The only stumble during that stretch was a one-point loss at George Mason on Valentine’s Day.
Wichita State turned up as a No. 5, which is about where most expected. But I don’t think anyone thought the Shockers would have to go through a defending Final Four team just to get to the weekend.
Oh well, the game is set. And because I like to play ahead when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, I looked at Wichita State’s potential road to the Final Four. If, of course, it can survive the opener.
The Shockers could potentially play Indiana on . Then there’s the chance of a Sweet 16 game against Kentucky. And, if the seeds hold up, Duke could await WSU for a trip to the Final Four.
So, theoretically, the Shockers have to get through three of the 12 winningest programs in college basketball history to get to New Orleans. Kentucky (2,084 wins) ranks first; Duke (1,971) is fourth and Indiana (1,688) is 12th. Those schools also have combined to win 16 national championships (Kentucky with seven, Indiana five, Duke four).
Like I said, I sometimes get ahead of myself.
Back to VCU for a moment. The Rams aren’t as good offensively as they were last season, but they have forced 18 turnovers per game and limit opponents to 59.8 points.
This game will provide not only an interesting matchup of teams, but also of coaches.
VCU’s Shaka Smart is the darling of the non-BCS schools. But Gregg Marshall could be the sweetheart. Both coaches should be up for some of the best openings. So, perhaps the winning coach gets the Illinois job? Just a thought.
Other thoughts:• KU gets last laugh on MU: Kansas is living right. Missouri is not.
But KU fans have known that all along, right?
It was a little disturbing to see the reaction of the Jayhawks’ team and coaching staff when it was announced Kansas was a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region. They should have been whooping and hollering because not only does KU get to stay close to home in Omaha, the Jayhawks get to play in St. Louis should they win those first two games.
And of all the No. 2 seeds, Kansas has the easiest route to the Elite Eight.
Missouri, meanwhile, gets to play in Omaha on the first weekend, but could run into a tough Florida team in the second game. And if the Tigers do get to the Sweet 16, they get shipped to Phoenix and a potential game against No. 3-seed Marquette from the Big East.
The No. 3 potentially in Kansas’ path is another Big East team, Georgetown. Marquette is better.• Kansas State goes East: Kansas State has one of the most interesting opening matchups against Larry Eustachy and Southern Miss in Pittsburgh on Thursday. If the Wildcats survive that game, they will likely play the East’s top seed, Syracuse, in the second round.
Why not? It’s a great opportunity for K-State, which has been helter-skelterish all season but has, at times, been really good. The Wildcats are not a walkover for any team in the field, not even Syracuse.• Toughest region: It’s difficult to determine the toughest region this year. Every region has really good 1 and 2 seeds, but the drop-off after that is pronounced in a couple regionals. I guess I’ll go with the West, with Michigan State, Missouri, Marquette and Louisville seeded 1-4. I really like Memphis as an 8-seed; the Tigers are a Final Four threat. And New Mexico and Murray State are interesting as 5 and 6 seeds. The West is one of the only regionals with quality depth.
Don’t sell the South Regional short, either. Wichita State is seeded a spot ahead of UNLV, a team the Shockers blitzed at Koch Arena in December.• Best first-round games: Wichita State-VCU has to be one of them, right? I also love Vanderbilt-Harvard in the East, a battle of intellectuals. UNLV-Colorado in the South looks like a good one, as does New Mexico-Long Beach State in the West.
• Upset alerts: Could South Dakota State (14) beat Baylor (3)? I think so. I think New Mexico State (13) will push Indiana (4). Florida State (3) better be on its game against St. Bonaventure (14). And Georgetown (3) looks vastly overrated to me. I think Belmont (14) might get the Hoyas in the first round. I also like Ohio (13) to stay with Michigan and Long Beach State (12) to perhaps beat New Mexico (5).
• The Shockers’ chances: Although it’s a tough draw, Wichita State can beat VCU and the winner of the Indiana-New Mexico State game. It’s that Kentucky game in the Sweet 16 round that looks daunting. But so what? You’ve got to play the Wildcats sometime, right? And what an opportunity it would be for the Shockers. I just hope that if that game comes around, WSU brings its A game.
• The Jayhawks’ chances: No team in the field got a better draw than KU. Not only is the competition in the Midwest lighter than in other regions, but KU never has to travel more than 300 miles. A showdown with North Carolina looms in the regional final in St. Louis. I’ll be surprised if that doesn’t happen.
• The Wildcats’ chances: K-State has a tough time getting to the second weekend, but what it has going for it is its unrelenting style. The Cats probably won’t get past the second round, but they’re capable of putting some hurt on Syracuse.