In an ideal world, this post would never have to be written. Virginia Commonwealth's inclusion in the 2011 NCAA Tournament field would be a moment of celebration for a mid-major team and conference and a historic achievement for a league that has felt NCAA tournament selection heartbreak in the past. But instead, I need to take time out from the mass production of #3Bids4CAA t-shirts, bumper stickers and flame throwers (the kids love those) to defend the selection of a worthy team. That's right, a worthy NCAA Tournament team.
The arrogance and righteous indignation of ESPN's Selection Sunday Tournament panel has brought me here today. If you didn't know any better, you would think the Selection Committee killed Hubert's Davis' parakeet, stole all of Digger Phelps' scented highlighters and cast Jay Bilas in "I Come in Peace, Too: No Really, I'm More Peaceful Than The Last Guy" instead of simply choosing a (Oh NO!) mid-major school as one of the final at-large selections. Through it all (and I'm paraphrasing, since I don't have Dan Steinberg's amazing transcription skills), I just kept hearing this:
OH MY GOD HOW CAN TWO LARGE CONFERENCE SCHOOLS (WHO JUST HAPPEN TO BE ON OUR NETWORK) BE LEFT OUT FOR SUCH A SMALL SCHOOL (WE KNOW NOTHING ABOUT).
I'm not sure what was worse: the vitriol they were spewing, or the cluelessness they displayed by not even seeming to know VCU was in the conversation.
And don't even get me started on Dick Vitale. Luckily, you don't have to - Mike Prada covered Mr. Hooters earlier this morning in this very space. I'll just add this about Vitale's misguided rant. He mentioned the kids at Virginia Tech and Colorado getting a "raw deal" so many times I half expected Arnold to burst onto the set with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" blaring.
Hey, ESPN talking heads, by my fuzzy math, mid-majors got seven of the 37 at-large bids, which is pretty much what they've received the last 10 years. If I may pull a Joe Friday, here are some facts: VCU had a RPI of 48 (per CBS Sports), and they were 3-5 against the RPI Top 50 team, 8-8 against the RPI Top 100 and 12-8 in road/neutral games.
Here's what perhaps kills me the most: where was the questioning of some of the large conference schools who were apparently easily into the tournament? You're trying to tell me Clemson and Florida State, with one Top 50 win combined (two less than the Rams), shouldn't be openly questioned in the same disdainful manner as VCU was? Please.
But wait, it's not just this guy lamenting the childish performance of the ESPN panel. It appears their inane ramblings have caught the eye of some other astute internet observers. Joe Sheehan unleashed an absolute must-read hatchet job on Rece Davis and his cohorts today. His shot at Hubert Davis was quite enjoyable, given my boiling rage at the time Davis said this on the air:
Then Hubert Davis got involved: "I haven't looked at their their numbers. I haven't looked at their RPI numbers, strength of schedule numbers. I hope that's not the reason that they got into the NCAA tournament."
How can you be involved in this discussion and not know what a team's numbers are? You want to weight them differently, fine, but I'm astounded that you can go on the air, for money, and advertise that you don't know critical information.
Oh yeah, my anger over the whole "why doesn't anyone question the major conference schools?" In addition to referencing the lack of quality wins for Florida State and Clemson, the man who wrote the book on the CAA (no, literally, he did), Michael Litos, adds this "big school" nugget.
It never came up that there are five 14-loss major conference teams in the tournament. Think about that, 14-loss teams. Two of those 14-loss teams had worse RPIs than VCU. Or that Georgia had five top 100 victories, three fewer than VCU. Or that RPI mattered, until it didn't.
Before I start droning on and on like the very windbags mocked above, I will wrap this up in a nice bow. VCU deserves to be in the tournament, but it really doesn't matter what I think or anyone else thinks now. Wednesday night in Dayton, OH, Shaka Smart and his Rams get to show all of us they deserve to be in the Big Dance by taking it to the USC Trojans on the court. Tip is at 9:10 p.m. on TruTV.
Let's hope Digger and Dickie V can stay up and watch with us.