VCU Perfect Fit for March Madness, Criticism from ESPN Analysts Way off Base

Greg StarddardContributor IIIMarch 30, 2011

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 25:  Jamie Skeen #21 of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams and the VCU fans celebrate 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)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As I sat on my couch on Selection Sunday for March Madness, I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

I wasn't surprised that VCU, Virginia Commonwealth University, had received an at large bid for the tournament. Heck, they won 23 games during the regular season. But I was shocked at the level of criticism from a few ESPN basketball analysts after it was announced the team got a bid. The criticism seemed personal, petty, unprofessional and quite frankly way off base.

Leading the charge to force the VCU basketball team to walk the plank into the Atlantic Ocean was ESPN College Basketball Analyst Jay Bilas. As he sat there on the TV set listening to VCU get the invitation, dude appeared to be losing his little mind. Bilas turned red, seemed agitated, irritated, annoyed and behaved like someone had taken his lunch money. It was not a good day for the Jay-ster, and he wanted everyone to know it.

Bilas screamed, pointed, stared and questioned why on earth was VCU being included in March Madness. "The committee got it all wrong," he preached. "They're going against their own principles. Had anyone talked about this team before today?" 

Poor Jay Bilas, someone took his basketball and he had to go home without it. Bilas openly criticized the NCAA Selection Committee. He publicly trashed VCU and its basketball team by the way he reacted. He offended a group of superb college basketball players who earned the right to be in the tournament.

Allow me to say before I go any further, that I used to think Bilas was a pretty good college basketball analyst. He always seemed informed, prepared and professional. Until Selection Sunday, he didn't appear to be the TV sports analysts who would go off the deep end. He didn't appear to be the one who would lose it. 

But for some reason he lost every bit of objectivity after VCU was invited to the big dance. I sat there in disbelief. Is he really saying this about VCU? It really seems to bother him.  I'd never seen him so animated. Was the VCU invitation personal?

Bilas wasn't the only one crushed when the Rams got the call. Dick Vitale was also confused. "The committee got it all wrong", he complained. There was no way VCU belonged in the tournament, according to Vitale as he spoke to a national TV audience.

From the comfort of his beautiful Florida home, Dickie V was beside himself. It couldn't be. He praised Alabama and Colorado, and screamed they belonged in the field of 68, and not VCU.

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You know every year a bubble team is left out or included in the field. It's a part of life in college basketball as the regular season comes to an end. Bubble teams that are excluded become the focus of intense debate. Did they get a fair shake? Or did they deserve to be left out?

The second guessing is part of the game after the 68 teams are announced. But never before did the cries and whining reach the level that it did this year, especially when it came to Bilas and Vitale.

The city of Richmond Virginia and VCU had every reason to be angry. They were raked over the coals on national television. The team had a good year. They didn't win their conference tournament, but they won a lot of games. That's why the committee selected them.

The committee is old school. Win a lot of games and there's a good chance you'll make the field. Winning a lot of games translates into a successful college basketball program.  Bilas and Vitale should know this. VCU coach Shaka Smart knows about winning basketball games and that's why his team has a good chance of winning a national championship.

The so called experts had VCU losing to USC in the play-in game as the tournament got underway. USC was too strong, according to the suits and ties on TV. Too much tradition.  Too much of a track record. Where is VCU located, they asked? The Rams smacked USC in the mouth and quickly moved on to the next opponent. The Pac-10 was too strong for VCU, right?

And there was no way VCU would beat Georgetown. The Hoyas were ranked in the top 10 at one point. They ended the regular season ranked in the top 20. They were from the Big Bad East. The Big East was considered the best conference in college basketball. The eventual national champion could very well come from their conference.

Well, all of that didn't seem to matter to the Rams. They sent the Hoyas packing. The Hoyas were back home in Washington, D.C. as VCU moved on. The experts were still quiet. Besides, VCU was lucky and didn't deserve to be there.

Purdue was their next opponent and surely the Rams wouldn't win this game. The Boilermakers were favored and the Big Ten was too talented. The basketball analysts predicted once again the demise of VCU. There was no way they'd win this game. 

Guess what? The Jay-ster and Dickie V were embarrassed once again. You'd  think they'd stand up and finally admit they dropped ball. Well, it didn't happen and VCU beat Purdue.

At this point you'd expect the ESPN high and mighty to possibly pick VCU over Florida State. After all, the Rams had just beaten more established teams from the Pac-10, Big East and Big Ten. Their resume was looking more and more impressive. The fellas from VCu were ballin' big time. They were on a roll.

But that wasn't the case with the experts. VCU was now squaring off against a team that beat the might Duke Blue Devils in the regular season. The 'Noles were poised to beat VCU according to those super intelligent sports guys. Well, super intelligent turned out to be wrong again. The Rams outlasted Florida State in the Sweet 16.

Suddenly, the team that was being trashed by some of the those at the most watched sports network, was playing in the Elite Eight. VCU was now one of the eight best teams in the entire country. How could the experts have been so wrong? How could they have missed the boat so badly?

They were so qualified to give their "expert" opinion and prediction. You'd think it was time to fess up. Not a chance. Kansas would obliterate VCU, according to analysts. The Jayhawks were a No. 1 seed and they didn't lose to teams from the Colonial Athletic Conference, right? Kansas had a chance to win it all, they proclaimed. And VCU? They all insisted VCU didn't have a chance.

The Rams manhandled the Jayhawks. Pushed them around like they were a No. 16 seed, instead of the top seed that they were. Kansas never really got into the game. They seemed outmatched. VCU actually looked like the No. 1 seed during the game. For a team deemed unworthy of playing in the NCAA tournament, VCU certainly looked like they belonged. 

You know why? Because they did.

VCU had every right to be peeved when March Madness began.

However, point guard Joey Rodriguez is looking like the best true point guard in the tourney right now. His impeccable passing ability is second to none. Brandon Rozell is draining threes from beyond the arc with ease.

Jamie Skeen has shown tremendous touch with his deadly jump shot. And Bradford Burgess's outside shooting has been impressive. Not bad for a team that the selection committee had no business including in the field of 68.

I'll give Dickie V some minor props. He said on the air over the weekend that Coach Smart should expect a large fruit basket from him in the near future. Nice try, Vitale. And your half-hearted apology about VCU's march to the Final Four is too little too late.

Jay Bilas has yet to acknowledge he was wrong about the Rams. Perhaps he still thinks he was right. Perhaps it's time for him and the other VCU critics to stand up and tell the sports world they dropped the ball big time.