March 17, 2007

You know, last year, the Bradley upset of Kansas was barely a blip with all of the spectacular first round upsets. I mean, there was anguish in Lawrence and jubilation in Peoria, but the individual story was lost. Why? Well, Kansas losing early for the second straight year kind of killed some of the “Cinderella” part to be more of “Kansas loses early, again.” Plus, the whole issue going into the tournament that week was did the MVC deserve all their bids and about how deserving mid-majors were of getting in? That made every upset part of a collective story and a lot less media attention directly on the teams. It was more of, they play some ball in the CAA and the MVC type thing. The focus on George Mason didn’t really begin until the following weekend when they got to to the Elite 8 and Final 4.
Fast forward a year, and there were no 5-12 upsets. In fact the only real upsets were VCU over Duke and Winthrop over ND. Considering Winthrop was underseeded and was a popular “upset” pick, that makes this one of the least exciting first rounds in years. (Useless factoid that may only interest me, in the NCAA books (PDF, pg. 64), they don’t consider 10-7 or 9-8 upsets legit upsets. They only count upsets if the seeding is 5 spots or more. That actually makes sense.)

That means all attention is on VCU. So there are tons of stories about the team. How they have a symbolic chain of unity. The school is selling lots of t-shirts and getting lots of attention.

Online orders, which typically come in a trickle, have come in torrents this week. When Gonzales signed on to his computer yesterday morning, he found more than a hundred new online orders waiting to be filled.

“We’ve shipped everywhere,” he said.

A T-shirt is in the works commemorating VCU’s win over Duke, but Gonzales said there are licensing agreements to be worked out before it can be printed. A Sweet 16 T-shirt is ready for the printer if VCU beats the University of Pittsburgh tonight.

Cynthia Schmidt, VCU’s marketing director, said sports Web logs have been bursting with comments about VCU’s victory over Duke. When one blogger this week likened VCU to a community college, VCU’s alumni and friends fired back with both barrels.

Schmidt has collected many of the comments, trying to edit out the four-letter words before passing them along to higher-ups.

Someone make sure to pass along to the Pitt locker room that VCU is already to print Sweet 16 T-shirts. The attention is also reflected on people looking for more info on VCU.

“The cool thing is, a lot of things are going on.” VCU is the state’s largest school and one of its most diverse, he said. It has the nation’s top public arts college, the top graduate advertising school, and a leading medical center, he added.

People will learn that, Jarrett says, when they visit the school or even its Web site.

That may already be happening. A VCU spokeswoman said yesterday that hits on the VCU Web site in March are up 26 percent over last March’s hits.

She added that between 8 and 9 p.m. Thursday, while the game was being played, the Web site had 212,000 page views. Between 9 and 10 p.m., which covered the last stages and post-game, the total was 548,000.

The academic side never likes to hear it, but big splashes in the athletic field does wonder for attention, money and applications. I mean, I know I was unaware that VCU was the biggest state school in Virginia (or is that biggest “commonwealth school?”).
The kid getting the most attention and is most deserved is Guard Eric Maynor.

Welcome to “Maynor Mania,” as one questioner coined it during yesterday’s press conference preceding the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Maynor’s ability to elevate himself when games are on the line has created this phenomenon. The latest in a string of such clutch performances came Thursday, when the 6-2, 165-pound sophomore point guard scored six points in the final 1:24 to lift VCU to a 79-77 victory over Duke.

Maynor capped the flurry with a 15-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds left, sending the Blue Devils packing and the 11th-seeded Rams into a second-round pairing with third-seeded Pittsburgh today at about 5:50 p.m.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” VCU coach Anthony Grant said of Maynor Mania. “I like the term.”

So, it falls to Pitt to be the Goliath in this game.

Reporters flocked to the VCU news conference yesterday and filled its locker room, wondering how many congratulatory text messages players and coaches had received (coach Anthony Grant estimated he’d received 80). They wanted sophomore point guard Eric Maynor to replay his game-winning shot and even came up with a cute, new phrase: Maynor Mania.

Third-seeded Pitt might as well have stayed at the hotel. About a third as many reporters attended its news conference. Even fewer went to the trouble of visiting its locker room.

It’s no secret. The Panthers will wear black hats tonight. This city has adopted VCU the way Pittsburgh adopted 15th-seeded Coppin State in a 1997 East Regional at the Civic Arena.

Most of the 18,000-plus fans on hand tonight and the majority of fans nationwide figure to be rooting hard against Pitt, even if a VCU win would screw up their brackets.

“That’s motivation for us,” said senior guard Antonio Graves, who will draw the assignment of guarding Maynor. “It puts a chip on our shoulder that we have to use. We have to match their intensity and play like we have nothing to lose, too.”

Senior center Aaron Gray doesn’t mind playing the villain’s role. He knows VCU has become a tournament darling and that people want Pitt to lose.

“Definitely, but I think the whole season people have wanted Pitt to lose,” Gray said. “I think people have kind of considered us overrated, ranked higher than we deserved. It’s nothing we’re not used to and nothing we can’t overcome.”

Hey, why not play the disrespect card at this point?

Seth davis at SI picking VCU in an to

Comment by TMGPanther 03.17.07 @ 2:08 pm

Pitt by 20

Comment by scoocher 03.17.07 @ 2:31 pm

When the brackets came out, Seth duke to beat vcu and duke to “upset” Pitt.

Oh well…

Something I found out about VCU

Weaknesses: … if they’re off, it’s over. There’s little size up front, stunningly average perimeter defense considering how good the guards are, and not enough production against the more physical teams. At center, 6-foot-10 Calvin Roland takes up space on the inside, but he doesn’t do enough with his minutes. The entire team is good at hitting the boards.

I like our chances Pitt 74 VCU 63

Comment by jimbo b 03.17.07 @ 3:08 pm

Slight typo

When the brackets came out, Seth picked duke to beat vcu and duke to “upset” Pitt.

Comment by jimbo b 03.17.07 @ 3:09 pm

take it for what its worth, but most services that help people place wagers for entertainment purposes only have pitt as a big lock. after seeing pitt alum (and future head coach) sean miller take a bad loss today, im not giddy for the game yet. plus im in a bracket pool with a bunch of big 10 homers…

Comment by matt 03.17.07 @ 3:59 pm

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