AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – What happens to the hunted when it becomes the hunter? Does it lose its killer instinct, its razor’s edge, the sharpness of which has been the difference between survival and irrelevance? Does it watch too much reality TV instead of going to the gym?
When VCU takes the court in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64 Thursday against Akron at the Palace of Auburn Hills, it will do so in a world that has shifted its perspective of the Rams. VCU, once America’s Sweetheart, the loveable underdog, is a legitimate brand name. This year, the Rams (26-8) earned a No. 5 seed, the school’s highest in 28 years.
Some of the most memorable moments in VCU history have come with the Rams as a double-digit seed. When Eric Maynor and the Rams toppled Duke in Buffalo in 2007, they were seeded 11th. VCU was also an 11-seed in 2011, when it stormed all the way through the Southwest Regional to the Final Four. Last year, as a 12-seed, VCU upset Wichita State in the Round of 64 in Portland, Ore.
VCU, especially under Shaka Smart, has adopted the underdog philosophy better than anyone. In 2011, half the anchors employed by ESPN, including Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale, dogged the NCAA committee’s selection of VCU. The Rams used it as bulletin board material on the way to five straight upset wins. So prominent was the chip on the Rams’ shoulder, that when VCU beat USC in the First Four in Dayton that year, Smart’s first words at his postgame press conference that night were: “You think Jay Bilas watched that game?”