CHICAGO -- Forget everything you know, because what you know is garbage. You knew, for example, that VCU didn't deserve an at-large bid into the 2011 NCAA tournament. Lots of you did. Lots of experts knew that, too.
So forget being an expert. Forget that, and forget everything else you know about the current college basketball season, and ask yourself this:
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Have you seen a better team in this tournament than 11th-seeded VCU?
Answer: No. You haven't. No. 1 overall seed Ohio State has demolished two teams, but that was one bad team (Texas-San Antonio) and one decent team (George Mason). And Ohio State is the only team in the bracket, after the tournament's first weekend, that deserves to be in the same sentence as VCU.
Now, listen. Don't get the wrong idea. Things I'm not saying:
• VCU will beat Ohio State in the title game.
• VCU will get to the title game.
• Over the course of five months, VCU has been one of the two best teams in the country.
I'm not saying any of that. But VCU has been the most impressive team in this tournament. I'm comfortable saying that. And the VCU team that demolished Southern California in the
play-in game first round and then obliterated two highly regarded teams -- sixth-seeded Georgetown, with Chris Wright back on the court Friday, and then third-seeded Purdue on Sunday -- can win the national title if it plays this way four more times. I'm very comfortable saying that.
Can you believe I just wrote that? Me neither. VCU, potential national champion? Crazy. But I wrote it, and I meant it. If VCU can keep up this pace, and play at this level, VCU can win the whole thing.
If you don't believe it, you must not have watched VCU against Georgetown or Purdue. And that's OK. That's forgivable. Lots of games to watch, many at the same time. If all you know about VCU is what you've read about that team, then you don't know enough to argue with me, because you haven't seen what I've seen. You don't know what I know.
And what I know is this: VCU is playing like a powerhouse, swallowing up opponents on offense and spitting them out on defense. VCU reminds me of the 2006 George Mason team that went to the Final Four, with one caveat:
At its best, this VCU team is better.
George Mason played at a high level to reach the Sweet 16 that year, beating Michigan State and North Carolina, but those games were close. They were competitive.
These games, for VCU, were not.
VCU destroyed Georgetown, then beat Purdue even worse. VCU did it with a fusillade of 3-pointers and even with non-gimmicky stuff like the penetration of Joey Rodriguez, who had 12 points and 11 assists, and Ed Nixon (11 and six). Over and over they gave dangerous low-post scorers Jamie Skeen and Bradford Burgess the ball within a few steps of the rim, and those guys know how to finish. Burgess also knows how to step outside and shoot 3-pointers, making three of them Sunday to give him 60 on the season. And he's not the Rams' best outside threat. That would be Brandon Rozzell, although VCU has six or seven guys who can bury the 3.
Does it sound like I love VCU? Good. That means I'm an effective communicator, because that's exactly what I'm trying to say. I love this team. Love this whole story. Love the band with its mix of gladiator-rock and 1980s pop songs. Love the cheerleader who walks on her hands all 94 feet of the court, pivots, and walks back. By the time she pops to her feet, her face is purple and the crowd is screaming.
Except for Georgetown fans on Friday and Purdue fans on Sunday, the United Center fell for VCU. It's an easy team to like. Former Georgetown coach John Thompson, a radio announcer now who had to call VCU's victory over Georgetown (and his son, the coach) and had the pleasure of calling the VCU victory against Purdue, turned around after Sunday's game was over and told me, "There isn't a coach in the country who didn't enjoy watching that team play."
And then Thompson said something else, something that I've been trying to say for 750 words now. Something you won't believe if I say it, but maybe you'll believe if Hall of Fame coach John Thompson says it.
He said, "There's not a coach in the country who wants to play those guys, either."