Mid-Major Morning Mashups: VCU Advances To Elite Eight Edition

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 25: Head coach Shaka Smart of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams celebrates after defeating the Florida State Seminoles during the southwest regional of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Alamodome on March 25, 2011 in San Antonio, Texas. Virginia Commonwealth defeated Florida State 72-71 in overtime. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

As Shaka Smart jumped onto the court while his players celebrated around him things suddenly began to crystallize - hyperbole no longer applies here.

VCU's remarkable story has added another chapter, one that brings them to the brink of their sports ultimate achievement. The greatest tragedy in it all is the comparisons that fans and pundits alike will try to draw in the next 24 hours leading up to the Rams Elite Eight match-up with Kansas. This isn't George Mason - make no mistake about that. This isn't to say Virginia Commonwealth's story is better, or more dynamic, it's simply different.

Our natural inclination when seeing something unique is to rationalize it in an analogous manner, in this case it is a disservice. Yes the conference is the same and the controversial at-large bids are omnipresent, but what VCU has achieved has simply never been done before. This is a byproduct of the newly minted First Four to be sure, but the fact remains the Rams have won four games, all over power conference teams and have reached a point only achieved by two other Colonial teams. 

With each game it seems VCU continues to rewrite what we perceive this team to be capable of. Reaction and analysis after the jump.

Andy Glockner of SI.com: "In the week leading up to VCU's Sweet 16 appearance, the Mason Magic drumbeat thumped louder and louder. The upstart Rams were coming from the same exact spot in the bracket -- 11-seed, upper-right corner -- as their CAA Final Four forebearers after both teams used BracketBusters wins at Wichita State to bolster borderline at-large credentials. But on Friday, with seven ticks left in overtime against Florida State, the Rams pulled off their greatest magic trick yet: For a split second, they made the Seminoles' stifling defense disappear. That moment was all Bradford Burgess needed to score the easiest of his game-high 26 points, on a wide-open layup off an inbounds play. It gave VCU a pulsating 72-71 win. It also contained a bit of sleight of hand. According to Burgess, the winning play was "somewhat" of a screw-up. "Brandon bumped into Jamie's man on a screen," Burgess said. "I was supposed to screen for Brandon, but he got caught under the basket, so I just slipped to the basket and Joey found me under the basket."

Ryan Fagan of the Sporting News: "Congrats, VCU. The 11th-seeded Rams knocked off yet another higher-seeded team along the way to an almost unfathomable berth in the Elite Eight-a thrilling, 72-71 overtime victory against Florida State. "It's like a dream right now," VCU senior Brandon Rozzell said. "This team isn't shocked, but the world is, and it's a great feeling." Their reward for living out this dream is a game against an extremely talented Kansas squad, the top seed in the Southwest region. Make that an extremely talented, and pretty ticked-off, Kansas squad. The Jayhawks were perturbed at a perceived slight by Richmond players during pregame introductions and used that as fuel during their 20-point win against the Spiders. They plan on keeping that feeling going."

John Branch of the New York Times: "With a wild, 72-71 overtime victory against Florida State, Virginia Commonwealth continued its unlikely dash through an N.C.A.A. tournament that many thought the Rams did not deserve to attend. The Rams scored with 7.1 seconds left in overtime off an inbound pass from Joey Rodriguez, who fed Bradford Burgess for a lay-up. Florida State scrambled to get downcourt for a final shot, but the jumper - perhaps after the buzzer - was blocked by Rob Brandenburg, setting off an on-court celebration by the Rams. "You win like that, you're going to celebrate like that," Rodriguez said. "We're not supposed to be here, you know. So we're going to enjoy it." V.C.U. surprised all the doubters by winning three times to reach the Round of 16 for the first time. Now 11th-seeded V.C.U. stands one win away from the Final Four. The Rams are the third Colonial Athletic Association team to reach the Round of 8, following Navy in 1986 and George Mason in 2006."

Steve Yanda of the Washington Post: "The shot that sprung 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth to yet another unimaginable height was not meant to come off Bradford Burgess's hands, but he was open - wide open - and so the Rams collected perhaps their easiest basket of the night in the heart of the territory Florida State's imposing front court had protected so well. Burgess's lay-in with 7.1 seconds remaining in overtime provided the final margin in VCU's 72-71 victory over the 10th-seeded Seminoles. on Friday night at the Alamodome. The Rams, who seemed destined to languish in the National Invitation Tournament after going 3-5 in February, will face top-seeded Kansas on Sunday with a spot in the Final Four on the line. VCU (27-11) played tight Friday night for the first time during its endearing NCAA tournament run, which made the team operate at times faster than even it would prefer. But when time finally expired, it was the punchy mid-major from Richmond that stormed across the court and leaped into each other's arms."

Pat Forde of the ESPN.com: "Joey Rodriguez was out of options and nearly out of time. "I was counting in my head," the Virginia Commonwealth guard said. "I was at four." Four seconds into his attempt to inbound the ball beneath the Florida State basket. One more tick and it would be a five-second violation, and the Rams would almost certainly have lost their last decent chance to beat the Seminoles. They trailed 71-70 in overtime, having frittered away a nine-point lead in the final 7:05 of regulation. And now they were eight seconds away from ending their stirring, underdog run to the Sweet 16. And the clock was ticking in Rodriguez's head. A play originally designed for Brandon Rozzell blew up when Rozzell and forward Jamie Skeen collided. Then it was on to Plan B -- Bradford Burgess slipping to the hoop off the third screen of the sequence -- which coach Shaka Smart told his point guard would be open late in the play. So Rodriguez kept his wits about him. The little senior Smart called the mentally toughest player he's coached didn't panic. He faked a deep pass to freeze the Florida State defense, then suddenly discovered Burgess cutting to the basket. Open. Shockingly open."

Paul Woody of the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "A team can get lucky in the men's NCAA basketball tournament and win a first-round game. But when a team drives deep into tournament, more than luck is involved. The Virginia Commonwealth University Rams have won four games in this year's NCAA tournament. Luck has had nothing to do with any of those victories. The Rams won their first three games, against Southern California, Georgetown and Purdue, in a thorough and convincing manner. Game four, Friday night here in the round of 16, was the biggest challenge the Rams have faced in the tournament, perhaps this season. The Rams, a No. 11 seed, led by nine points with just over seven minutes left in the Southwest Region game. At the end of regulation, they had just enough energy left on defense to keep Florida State, a No. 10 seed, from making the game-winning shot. Those final seven minutes could have been disastrous for the Rams. VCU did not just find it difficult to score, the Rams found it hard even to get a decent shot. And sometimes when they had a good shot, a Seminoles' player batted it away from the basket. Yet the VCU players remained resolute."

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