The following was written for my Sports Journalism class (J475) at the University of Wisconsin, using quotes obtained from postgame press conference transcripts and stories on ESPN.com, FOXSports.com, and the New York Times.
From First Four to Final Four.
Two weeks ago, Virginia Commonwealth was on the bubble. A few days later, they were in Dayton as one of the last four teams into the NCAA tournament. From there, the Rams went to Chicago and San Antonio, embarrassing major conference teams along the way.
Now, after humbling No. 1 seed Kansas with a 71-61 victory, the VCU team that many believed did not even belong in the tournament is headed to the Final Four in Houston.
“Once again, we felt like nobody really thought we could win going into the game,” said Shaka Smart, the 33-year-old VCU head coach, to open the postgame press conference. “But these guys believed we could win. They knew we could win. We talked before the game about how nobody else really matters, what they think. That’s our theme throughout the NCAA tournament since we were selected.
“Our guys have done a phenomenal job putting all the doubters aside, putting all the people that didn’t believe in us aside and going out and doing their job.”
It did not matter that ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said VCU’s inclusion in the field of 68 was “indefensible.” Nor did it matter that Bilas’ colleague Joe Lunardi questioned whether the Rams’ defense could guard even him.
VCU did not even watch the selection show together on March 13, because Smart himself did not believe his team would be selected. Once they were, however, and once so many questioned whether they were deserving of such selection, Smart used those words as motivation throughout the first five rounds of the tournament.
Before the tipoff against the Jayhawks, one of KU’s star players was added to the list.
“You guys have had a good run,” forward Marcus Morris told Virginia Commonwealth guards Joey Rodriguez and Brandon Rozzell, according to ESPN.com. “But now it’s over.”
Morris’ words, much like those of Bilas and Lunardi before him, inspired and motivated VCU. Even after an impressive run of four wins over tough opponents to get there, few expected the Rams to even compete with the Jayhawks, especially after Kansas’ 20-point victory over 12th-seeded Richmond two days earlier.
Not only did they compete, Smart’s VCU squad shocked the basketball world, dominating the highest-seeded team remaining in the field. After giving Kansas the first six points of the game, the Rams’ hot shooting put them up by as many as 18 points in the first half, and by 14 at the half.
“We’ve played our best basketball when it matters most,” Smart said. “That’s why I’m sitting up here with a net around my neck.”
After controlling the game for the first 20 minutes, VCU held off Kansas’ comeback effort, which saw the Jayhawks go on a 12-0 run to cut the lead to four points just five minutes into the second half. The Rams would never give up their lead, despite letting KU get within two points following a Tyshawn Taylor 3-point play with 13:13 remaining.
From that point, VCU outscored Kansas 25-17 the rest of the way, the last six points of which came on free throws in the game’s final minute. Three-point baskets by forward Jamie Skeen, Rodriguez and guard Bradford Burgess, three of the Rams’ 12 made 3-pointers in the game, helped VCU retake the momentum and extend its lead.
Despite being on the verge of giving control of the game back to the Jayhawks early in the second half, when it looked like the Rams’ incredible tournament run was on the verge of ending, VCU never let the pressure of the big moment affect it.
“All the pressure was on them,” Burgess told the New York Times. “They were the No. 1 seed, and no one expected us to be here.”
VCU is just the third No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four, with LSU having done so in 1986 and Colonial Athletic Association rival George Mason accomplishing the feat in 2006. But neither got there in as impressive a way as the Rams did.
LSU won four games by an average of 4.3 points, while Mason won four by 6.3 points. Both beat No. 1 seeds by two points in the regional finals. VCU won its five games by an average of 12 points.
In each of those five games, the Rams have knocked off a major conference opponent that was expected to beat them.
“We don’t back down,” VCU freshman guard Rob Brandenburg told FOXSports.com.
First, it was Pac-10 opponent USC by 15 points in Dayton. In Chicago, VCU knocked off Georgetown of the Big East and Purdue of the Big Ten by 18 points apiece. Finally, in San Antonio, VCU battled ACC foe Florida State to a one-point overtime victory before upsetting Big XII champion Kansas by 10 points.
For good measure, the Rams will face Butler, a fellow mid-major, in the semifinals. But if it reaches the championship game, a potential matchup with SEC tournament champion Kentucky would give VCU a shot at a clean sweep of all six major conferences.
When the final buzzer sounded and VCU cut down the nets in front of its black-and-yellow clad fans at the Alamodome, the Rams had accomplished something no other team had ever done. They won five games en route to a Final Four berth.
It typically takes four to reach the final weekend, six to win the championship. But by virtue of their inclusion in the First Four, the Rams will need seven victories to complete their run.
“One last thing,” Smart told the VCU fans afterward, “we’re not done yet.”
I love the NCAA Tournament.
This isn’t groundbreaking news, or anything that I’ve newly discovered. I’ve loved the Tournament since as long as I can remember. Since I was in middle school, I’ve been participating in bracket pools at school and work, among other places.
What is new, is the way Twitter has enhanced my enjoyment of the Tournament in 2010. Rather than simply watch the games, I can watch them on TV or online while following my favorite sports writers and on-screen personalities on Twitter. Of course, there’s always the tweets from regular people as well.
Regardless of who you follow, Twitter allows for a much greater interactive experience during the NCAA Tournament. This applies to any sporting event, though. For any team or event you follow, there is likely to be a “hash tag” that you can search for if you want to discuss the events as they happen.
For example, if you’re watching Wisconsin play Cornell, just search for #badgers, #cornell, #bigred or even #wisconsin. Now, the latter could give you non-sports tweets related to the state of Wisconsin, but any of the those four is likely to give you plenty of commentary on said game.
If you want more knowledgeable commentary during games, follow Seth Davis of SI (@sethdavishoops), Dick Vitale of ESPN (@DickieV) or Gary Parrish of CBS (@GaryParrishCBS). Don’t like those three? Just about every big name journalist or on-air personality today has a Twitter account. And most of them tweet frequently during big sporting events.
If that’s not enough for you, try Herald Sports during Badger football, basketball and hockey games (@bheraldsports) or follow me (@jordanschelling) or my fellow BH sports editor Adam Holt (@adamjsholt) for live updates during sporting events.
Say what you want about Twitter, but I couldn’t imagine covering/watching sports without it.
During the NCAA Tournament, primarily during this second weekend when there are fewer games to switch back-and-forth between, CBS has been showing head coaches’ locker room speeches just before the beginning of the second half.
This is something that is uncommon in general basketball coverage. Yet, this additional access to the teams and coaches is not something I’m immediately excited to receive. Rather, I’m more drawn to wonder if this takes things too far?
I already was unsure I agreed with the 30-minute open period in locker rooms after games at the Tournament. Adding nearly live coverage of teams’ halftime discussions gets to the point of seeming to go too far.
Do we really need to hear and see what Kansas State head coach Frank Martin said to his team when they were trailing 27-20 at the half to Butler? Or would we be OK just watching the game and having a reporter ask Martin or one the players about it afterward and how it related to their second-half play?
Personally, I’m fine with the second. Maybe it’s just because I have the ability to ask such questions if I see fit. And maybe it’s because I see so much value in the ability of such reporters to interpret the play and the postgame comments from the coaches and players to present it to readers.
Either way, I’m still not so sure we need to have a camera in the locker rooms during halftime of NCAA Tournament games. And I certainly cannot imagine the coaches enjoy it either.
But in the our world today, with technologies like Twitter providing greater access to coaches and athletes than ever before, I cannot say I’m all that surprised by it. And I certainly do not expect it to stop.
A week ago, ESPN and the Golf Channel got semi-exclusive interviews with Tiger Woods regarding his return to professional golf at the 2010 Masters. It was the first time Woods spoke with the media since his infamous SUV crash on Thanksgiving night.
Now, it seems like an obvious decision for both networks to take the interview, despite the 5-minute time limit, among other restrictions. Yet, one network did not find it so obvious.
CBS, the primary network that covers the Masters, disagreed with the restrictions on the interview and ultimately chose not to take the interview with Woods. As a result, ESPN stole a lot of attention away from CBS during the NCAA Tournament, much as it did to NBC during the Winter Olympics when Woods made his public apology live on their network.
While CBS may have disagreed with the restrictions, turning down the interview as a whole was a mistake. ESPN is already likely to get as good, if not better, ratings than CBS because it airs the first two rounds of the Masters. But by giving them what was essentially an exclusive interview when you consider how few people watch the Golf Channel, CBS gave up even more.
Now, the big shots at CBS will have to hope Woods’ return to golf extends to the weekend. If not, they will be, to put it bluntly, fucked. Sure, people will still tune in to the final two rounds if Woods isn’t playing, but they’re banking their ratings on him being there. The least they could have done is supplement those ratings with an interview last week.
Sure, they may not have had time to show it as early as ESPN due to their live coverage of NCAA basketball, but not showing it at all? Come on. CBS’ inability to manage multiple games at times during the Tournament is bad enough, but declining a one-on-one interview with Tiger? That’s a decision I’m sure CBS would like a mulligan on.
By Jordan Schelling The Badger Herald
By Jordan Schelling The Badger Herald