Sweet 16: Richmond 2, Big East 2

You read that right. Our state’s capital city has all of two NCAA teams, both of which made the NCAA Tournament field of 68, and both of which fought their way into the Sweet 16 with a combined record of 5-0.

Meanwhile, the entirety of the Big East, a 16-team superconference stretching from the Northeast practically into the Southern Hemisphere, which had a record 11 teams make the tourney field, will have, like the City of Richmond, two teams still alive in the Sweet 16 later this week.

(And those came from second-round matchups featuring a pair of Big East teams of which the winner had to be from the Big East. Otherwise …)

That it’s not out of the realm of the average basketball fan’s imagination that neither of the teams from Richmond – the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth – could have even been in the NCAAs to begin with is what makes March Madness so interesting.

UR, I thought, was a lock with its 24-win regular season in the respected Atlantic 10, but even after winning the A-10 conference tournament the Spiders earned just a #12 seed, an indication that the poo-bahs had Richmond pegged for another postseason destination without the automatic bid.

VCU, meanwhile, was not even part of the conversation heading into Selection Sunday. After limping down the stretch of the 2010-2011 season to a fourth-place finish in the CAA, the Rams seemed destined for the NIT before hearing their names called for the inaugural First Four, a set of play-in games featuring the final four at-large teams to get berths into the NCAA field.

VCU dominated Southern Cal from the Pac 10 in the first round, then beat Georgetown from the Big East on Friday night to earn a matchup with the Southwest Region’s third seed, Purdue of the Big 10. The Rams, the #11 seed, played like they were the big boys in a convincing 94-76 win that lands them in San Antonio for a 9:55 p.m. Friday tipoff.

Playing the game before them: Richmond, which upset fifth-seeded Vanderbilt on Thursday and then decimated Morehead State on Saturday.

VCU gets another Cinderella in its Sweet 16 matchup in the form of #10 seed Florida State of the ACC, which was slighted on Selection Sunday with just four bids, but has a tournament-high three teams left in the field after the first weekend.

Richmond’s test will be the toughest of the two teams from the capital city to date – top-seed Kansas.

Here’s to our Cinderellas not realizing it’s close to midnight a little while longer, and having the champion of the Southwest also be the city champs of Richmond for 2010-2011.


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