RICHMOND, Va. (iPadJournos) – As the VCU basketball team makes its entry into the NCAA Tournament against Stephen F. Austin State University on Friday evening, expectations are high on the downtown campus.
“I feel like we’ve got something to prove this year, more than we did a few years back,” VCU junior Edmund Merife said. “People already have us on upset alert this year and we just started. To me, that’s just insulting.”
After their second consecutive loss in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Championship, last weekend against Saint Joseph’s University, Shaka Smart’s team has much to prove. With a 28-6 season behind them, the Rams wish for another unpredictable run to the Final Four like in 2011.
“That was one of the craziest things I’ve seen in my entire life,” VCU junior Amy Klim said. “It’s one of those things that fills you with pride every time you think about it. And I believe we can make another run at it this year.”
The team heads into the tournament as the No. 5 seed in the South region with a second round match-up against the Southland Conference Champions of Stephen F. Austin State University, a team that many analysts have selected to be this year’s “Cinderella story.” The Lumberjacks tactics have been compared to Smart’s recent VCU successes, focusing on defense and creating turnovers.
Duke University hall of fame basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski even took a swipe at the perceived strength of the Atlantic 10 conference, causing VCU coach Shaka Smart to dismiss the comments as “low level” earlier this week.
But fans are trying to ignore the pre-game chatter and are embracing the underdog role for their team in this year’s tournament.
“We got no respect back when we made our run in 2011,” Merife said. “But those are just analysts trying to get attention on the bigger stage. We knew we were the better team in 2011 and we know we’re the better team now. We can use this underdog status as fuel for a long trip into the tournament.”
If the Rams beat Stephen F. Austin, they will likely face No. 4 seed UCLA in the third round. If the Rams reach the Sweet 16, they would likely face one of the toughest opponents in the tournament, the No. 1 seed Florida.
But to the fans, challenging opponents in the NCAA Tournament are nothing new for the underdog Rams.
“All I know is that the people at ESPN and those other teams better be careful throwing that title at us again,” Klim said. “Because everyone remembers what happened the last time we were the underdogs.”
The second round matchup of VCU and Stephen F. Austin State University tips off at 7:27 p.m. on Friday and can be seen on truTV.
By Benjamin Billmyer, Special to WTVR.com
This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.