In the history of the NCAA tournament there have been numerous Cinderella stories…
Two of the most famous examples are the 1985 Villanova Wildcats and the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack, who both entered the tournament ranked fairly low and went on to win the National championship.
More recently, there was the 2006 George Mason Patriots, who entered the tournament as an eleventh seed and made it to the Final Four before losing to the eventual champion Florida Gators.
And most recently, the Butler bulldogs have proved to be a perennial Cinderella, making it to the National championship game as a five-seed last year and returning to the Final Four this year despite an eighth seed ranking.
While all of these upsets are impressive in their own fashion, none of them can quite measure up to the Cinderella run of the VCU Rams this year, who have made it to the Final Four as an eleven seed.
VCU entered the tournament as one of the First Four, a brand new addition to March Madness this year in which four teams play two play-in games to determine the final two spots in the tournament.
The Rams didn’t even expect to make the tournament. On Selection Sunday, the team did not watch the Selection show. They instead ate fast food and watched cartoon network, apparently content with a season they deemed finish.
But their season was far from over.
The Rams snuck into the tournament in an extremely controversial decision that put them as one of the First Four but left out teams that most believed had better overall resumes. Both Harvard and Virginia Tech had more wins and a higher RPI than the Rams, but were left out of the tournament. Colorado University appeared to be a lock to make the tournament after beating five-seeded Kansas State three times in the regular season and playing well all year in an extremely competitive Big 12 conference. But Colorado was left out.
But as soon as VCU began tournament play in the First Four, senior guard Joey Rodriguez put the Rams on his back and carried them to the Final Four.
The Rams opened their tournament play by dominating USC in the play-in game and beating them 59-46. Rodriguez scored eight points and handed out five assists in leading his team to victory. Any notions that the Rams not belonging in the tournament were quickly silenced with this performance, as the Rodriguez-led offense operated with impressive continuity and the defense overwhelmed the Trojans.
The Rams continued their impressive playing in the round of 64 with a 74-56 upset of Georgetown, the first of their four upsets so far in the tournament. Rodriguez scored 17 points and dished out another seven assists as the Rams continued their impressive play.
But the Hoyas have been vulnerable to an upset in the NCAA tournament before and VCU’s first two wins seemed more like a fluke than anything else. But in their third game against third-seeded Purdue, the Rams proved that they were a legitimate threat in the tournament.
The Rams dominated the Boilermakers, winning with a final score of 94-76. Rodriguez registered a double-double this time, scoring twelve points and handing out eleven assists in one of the most impressive offensive showings so far in the tournament.
The Rams had their closest call so far in the Sweet Sixteen against Florida State. It took extra time for VCU to beat the Seminoles, but the Rams scored a layup with 7.1 seconds left in overtime to win, 72-71. Rodriguez maintained his position as general of the offense; although he scored only five points, he handed out eleven assists.
Their run was impressive enough, and it seemed as though it would meet its end against Kansas, who many believed would be the eventual National champion. No one would have blamed the Rams for giving in and allowing the Jayhawks to take over.
But the Rams weren’t done yet.
The Rams stunned the Jayhawks in one of the biggest upsets in tournament history on Sunday with a 71-61 victory. The Rodriguez-led offense were simply too much for the Jayhawks, who looked out of rhythm all game, as though they didn’t expect to meet the team who showed up against them.
But how could they have? How could Kansas underestimate a team that has already proven to be a legitimate threat in the tournament?
But the Rams have done it. They have made it to the Final Four by winning five games, a feat that no other team in the history of the NCAA tournament can claim to have done. They meet fellow Cinderella, Butler, in the Final Four, and if the tournament has taught us anything so far, it’s not to count Rodriguez and VCU out.