The Sweet 16 bracket has a lot of surprises in it. But the biggest surprise is VCU, especially since few even wanted them in the tournament. Yet they have won three games already, and have become the headline story of the Southwest region. However, since that region includes Kansas, the Rams are expected to fall well short of the Final Four. Still, the Sweet 16 is starting to look very similar to the one that put another CAA team in the Final Four.
The Southwest regional has Kansas as the overwhelming favorite, for obvious reasons. The only ones that can stop them are 10th seeded Florida State, 11th seeded VCU, and 12th seeded Richmond. It seems that the Jayhawks’ strengths and all the upsets in their region should be more than enough to send them through.
Yet the bracket could be misleadingly easy for Kansas, as it was for Connecticut in 2006. In that tournament, the Huskies were the overwhelming favorite in a region with several Cinderellas. In fact, their last remaining competition was No. 5 Washington, No. 7 Wichita State, and No. 11 George Mason.
Like this year’s VCU team, George Mason was an 11th seed from the CAA in 2006 and had blown past traditional powers. And like the 2011 Rams, the 2006 Patriots had to face another Cinderella first before they could take on the all powerful No. 1.
By that pattern, VCU should cruise by Florida State before meeting Kansas. In such a matchup, the Jayhawks would be picked by everyone, just as the Huskies were in the 2006 Elite Eight. Yet on that day, Connecticut became the last of many upset victims in their region, against an 11th seeded CAA Cinderella.
If VCU reaches the Final Four, however, it would be even more incredible than George Mason’s feat. Nowadays, seeing mid-majors win regionals isn’t as shocking anymore – but when George Mason and Butler did it, no one disputed their credentials beforehand. They left no doubt that they belonged in the tournament, even before they started their runs, although the Rams were another matter.
Yet few teams in the Sweet 16 have had the decisive wins that VCU has – and no one else has had to win three times to get here. The pieces are all falling into place for the Rams to finish the job – almost exactly how they fell for their CAA rivals five years ago.
But since the Jayhawks are such overwhelming favorites, with their own history of upset tournament losses, they might know better than to look ahead. If they don’t, however, the Sweet 16 may officially become one of the most shocking in history – despite being far from unprecedented.
ESPN- “NCAA Tournament Bracket – 2011”
San Antonio Express- “VCU gives CAA another unlikely NCAA run”