VCU vs. Alabama Basketball: Which Team Will Make the NCAA Tournament?

Erik SchultzCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2011

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 12:  Head coach Anthony Grant of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts as he coaches against the Kentucky Wildcats during the quarterfinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bridgestone Arena on March 12, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

VCU (23-11, 12-6 CAA); RPI: 48, SOS: 85

Alabama (20-10, 12-4 SEC); RPI: 76, SOS: 125

Common opponents: Tennessee (VCU lost, Alabama won)


Why VCU Gets In

VCU had an intense, and noteworthy, three days in Richmond.  The Rams defeated Drexel on a Jamie Skeen buzzer-beater in the quarterfinal round of the CAA tournament.  They followed that with perhaps their best game of the season—a 79-63 win over top-seeded George Mason in the semifinal round.  The win ended the Patriots’ 16-game winning streak, the longest in the nation. 

In the CAA championship, VCU fell behind by 16 to Old Dominion before rallying to cut the lead to just one point.  However, the Rams just ran out of gas, as ODU won by five and took the CAA’s automatic bid for the NCAA tournament.

Despite coming up just short in claiming the automatic bid, VCU added a couple solid wins to its at-large profile.  The win over Mason gives the Rams three wins against teams inside the RPI top 35.  The other two are wins at Old Dominion, and over UCLA in New York back in November.  All three of those teams are all but guaranteed to be playing in the NCAAs.

VCU is a respectable 3-5 against the RPI top 50, 2-3 against teams from the CAA and 1-2 against teams outside the league.  The Rams lost by five to Tennessee prior to beating UCLA at Madison Square Garden, and then lost by three at UAB in December. 

With six of the CAA’s 12 teams ranked in the RPI top 100, VCU picked up eight wins against teams in the top 100.  That includes two over Drexel, with an RPI of 75, and a solid win at Wichita State in BracketBuster weekend. 

VCU also has a win over Wofford, who earned the Southern Conference’s automatic bid by beating Charleston Monday night.


Why VCU is Left Out

While the CAA currently has half of its teams in the RPI top 100, it also has five below 175.  VCU lost to two of those teams—Northeastern and Georgia State.  Without those two losses, VCU would have finished 14-4 instead of 12-6 in conference play, and would be in much better position to earn an at-large bid.

No team from the CAA has earned an at-large bid with a 12-6 conference record.  Last year, William & Mary had a 12-6 record in the CAA, and had stronger non-conference wins—Maryland, Wake Forest and Richmond—than VCU does this year.  Its name was never called when the brackets were released last Selection Sunday.

Over half of VCU’s 23 wins have come against teams below 200 in the RPI, including six of its conference wins.  For a team with 11 losses to begin with, there may not be quite enough quality wins to make up for all the losses.

A loss to South Florida, who finished just 3-15 in the Big East this season, certainly won’t help VCU’s case either.


Why Alabama Gets In

Alabama closed the season on a much-needed positive note, beating Georgia at home.  With both teams competing for an at-large bid, Anthony Grant’s team stepped up in its most high-pressure game of the season, to this point.

For much of the season, Alabama held the best record in the entire SEC.  The Tide finished 12-4 in SEC play, winning the SEC West by three games, and finishing a game behind Florida for best record overall.

While the SEC West is undoubtedly nowhere near as strong as the East, Alabama more than held its own in its inter-division games.  The Tide won four of the six games against the East, only losing on the road to Vanderbilt and Florida.  A win over Kentucky in January, in Tuscaloosa, was the Tide’s marquee win.  It is backed up nicely by a win at Tennessee and a win over Georgia to close out the season.

From mid-January to late-February, Alabama was one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning nine of 10 in the SEC.  That stretch included wins over Kentucky and Tennessee.  The Tide were a possession and incorrect out-of-bounds call from winning at Vanderbilt, which would have been 10 straight wins. 

For a power-conference team to play that well for an extended period is hard to ignore.  The only teams usually capable of such a run are teams that not only reach the NCAA tournament, but have the capability to make a deep run as well.


Why Alabama is Left Out

The dead horse that is Alabama’s non-conference losses—including Iowa, Providence and Saint Peter’s— does not need any further beating.  They are the absolute reason Alabama is even being compared in this series.

Even more unimpressive than the teams Alabama lost to are the teams it beat out of conference.  In terms of RPI, the Tide's best win is over Lipscomb (RPI of 133).  And after Lipscomb?  The other seven teams the Tide beat outside the SEC have RPIs below 200.  Alabama really needed a decent win or two outside the SEC to offset some of the losses, but there is nothing close to one to be found.

Thanks to going 0-3 in the Paradise Jam, and losing its other three road games in non-conference play, Alabama wound up just 4-10 in games played away from Tuscaloosa.  That mark just might make it tough to believe in the Tide’s ability to win on a neutral court in the NCAA tournament.


Who Gets In?

Both VCU and Alabama have defeated three teams who are likely to be in the NCAA tournament.  While VCU has been more consistent and has generally fared better on the road, Alabama has shown a bit more of an upside with its SEC play. 

However, the very fact that Alabama was unable to show—for even one game—that it could compete and win against a quality non-conference opponent is too much to ignore.  The mass of losses to mediocre teams may kill their RPI, but it’s the lack of any respectable wins outside the league that makes it difficult to justify the Tide's presence in the NCAA tournament.

If the Tide can beat Georgia again—on a neutral floor—in the SEC tournament, then they will have a stronger case.  If they win two games, they should be in.  For now, Alabama simply doesn’t have enough to make it.

VCU:  IN, Alabama:  OUT


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