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Top Washington D.C. Sports Stories 2011, No. 7: VCU Makes Unlikely Final Four Run

Many felt Shaka Smart's VCU squad shouldn't have even been in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they went on a run to the Final Four that captivated its neighbors two hours north.

Virginia Commonwealth University is in Richmond, which makes it just barely on the periphery of the D.C. sports scene. Nevertheless, with Maryland not playing in the postseason, Georgetown doing its customary early NCAA Tournament exit and George Mason getting walloped by Ohio State, the city needed some team to get behind.

Luckily, Shaka Smart's Rams stepped to the plate, going on a March Madness run to the Final Four that reminded many in this city of what their fellow CAA members from Fairfax did in 2006. Most observers felt VCU didn't even belong as an at-large team, with ESPN's Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas among the most vocal critics. But the Rams soon forced a lot of those people to eat their words (happily, I might add).

They were a Cinderella story, sure. But whereas Jim Larranaga's bunch in 2006 truly defined Cinderella with several late-game escapes, Smart's crew in 2011 flipped the Cinderella concept on its head, dominating teams that were the higher seed. The Rams' run to the Final Four included a 13-point win over USC, an 18-point win over No. 6 Georgetown, an 18-point win over No. 3 Purdue and a 10-point win over No. 1 Kansas in the regional final. VCU didn't escape; they simply outplayed some very highly-regarded teams.

The run came to an end against Butler in the Final Four, but suddenly, Smart was a hot name and VCU was at the center of the college basketball world. Maybe the Rams weren't D.C.'s team, but everyone needs someone to support in March, and they were close enough.

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