Setting the scene: Surely you’ve heard by now, but just in case, VCU has received a five seed for the NCAA Tournament and will take on 12th-seeded Akron Thursday in Auburn Hills, Mich. at approximately 9:50 p.m. VCU and Akron will follow No. 4 Michigan and No. 13 South Dakota State. The winners of those two games will meet on Saturday in the round of 32.
The series: It seems like VCU and Akron can’t avoid each other, that the universe is conspiring to make them play every year. The Rams and Zips drew each other for ESPN’s BracketBusters event in 2007-08 (in Akron) and 2009-10 (in Richmond). They also played the contractually obligated return games. That means this will be the fifth meeting between the two schools since 2008, none of which were actually scheduled by the schools. Ain’t life grand?
VCU won all four of the recent meetings between the schools and leads the all-time series 6-0. The Rams topped the Zips 76-75 in overtime on Dec. 29, 2011 in the last meeting. A baseline drive and layup by Darius Theus in the final seconds provided the final margin.
Here is the final 1:10 of that contest:
The friendship: Shaka Smart was an assistant coach for Zips Coach Keith Dambrot from 2003-06. The two remain extremely close and openly root for each other when they’re not playing. It was clear after last season’s meeting that both men agonized over the prospect of meeting as opponents.
Here’s what Shaka Smart said following the Rams’ win last last season at Akron’s James A. Rhoades Arena:
I’d rather not coach against him because he’s someone that I have such a history with and have such respect for…but I can promise you this, we won’t be scheduling Akron anymore because I’d rather on a night like tonight, both of us win, and tonight that was impossible.
Dambrot even revealed that he cried when VCU upset Kansas to reach the Final Four in 2011.
VCU and the NCAA Tournament: This will be the Rams’ 12th NCAA appearance. VCU is 11-11 all-time in the tournament, including 6-2 under Shaka Smart.
This marks the fourth time VCU has reached the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team (1983, 1984, 2011, 2013).
The Rams’ five-seed is its highest since VCU earned the No. 2 seed in the West in 1985, and is tied for the second-highest ever by the school. VCU was also a five-seed in 1981 and 1983.
VCU has won at least one NCAA Tournament game in eight of its previous 11 appearances.
The Rams are 2-0 as a five-seed against a 12-seed.
Finally, here is a photo of Dambrot in a VCU t-shirt. Good times: