If you haven’t heard of Shaka Smart, it’s time to wake up and partake in the Madness. The 33-year-old VCU coach, who can often be seen shuffling up and down the sidelines to energize his players, has done the unthinkable — he has led his rather unknown team from the First Four to the Final Four.
After knocking off USC in a play-in game in Dayton on March 16, the Rams have gone on one of the most improbable runs in recent tournament history, capped off by Sunday’s stunning upset over top-seeded Kansas, 71-61. Along the way, VCU has defeated Georgetown, Purdue and Florida State, all teams from power conferences.
The Rams have had to win five games to make it to next weekend’s semifinals, one more than the other three teams left in the field that include Kentucky, UConn and Butler.
When VCU was awarded with a No. 11 seed on Selection Sunday, fans and analysts were quick to express their anger. Many people strongly believed the Rams, who finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association standings and lost their last four regular season games, were not worthy of a bid.
Needless to say, the Rams have done enough to silence most of those critics, and the selection committee members are likely breathing a sigh of relief.
This is not the first time VCU has made some noise in the tournament. Four years ago, the team knocked off perennial powerhouse Duke in the first round, while boasting a No. 11 seed.
The Rams face off against Butler next Saturday at 3:09 p.m., ensuring that one of these mid-major teams will earn a spot in next Monday’s championship game. The winner will face the survivor of Saturday’s Kentucky vs. UConn match-up.