This year's NCAA tournament has been packed with improbable upsets — of the 5.9 million people who filled out brackets in ESPN's contest, only two correctly picked the Final Four. Exemplifying this lack of predictability, Virginia Commonwealth University on Sunday managed a shocking 71-61 victory over Kansas, who'd been considered the championship favorite after other powerhouses fell. VCU's run is particularly impressive because they were one of the eight teams that had to compete in a pre-tournament "play-in game" to even make it into the 64-team field. Commentators are comparing them to George Mason's 2006 team, which also made the final four as a #11 seed. But is this squad's underdog story even better? (Watch VCU students celebrate the win)
Yes. This was highly, highly improbable: "In a competition famous for its upsets, the Rams having made it to Houston may be the most unlikely occurrence in the history of the tournament," says Nate Silver at The New York Times, who listed the Rams as an 820-1 underdog to make the Final Four going into tournament play. Beyond the fact that the Rams had to play one more game than most other teams, they simply weren't considered any good. "Many commentators, from statheads to traditionalists, had objected to their being in the tournament field in the first place." Statistically speaking, only two teams in NCAA history — Villanova in 1985 and Pennsylvania in 1979 — can compete with VCU in terms of improbability.
"In tournament of upsets, V.C.U. has overcome longest odds"
And their path has been unprecedented: "Do you need yet another way to say that VCU's run to the 2011 Final Four is historic?" says Mike Prada at SB Nation. In the course of their run to the promised land, the Rams, who play in the unheralded Colonial Athletic Association, beat five teams from five different "power" conferences — the Pac 10, Big East, Big 10, ACC, and Big 12 — a feat no underdog has managed in the history of the tournament. Given the variety of talented opponents VCU have faced over the last two weeks, "nobody can say VCU didn't earn their trip to the Final Four."
"VCU makes Final Four by being first ever to beat five power conferences"
They just need to win two more games: Winning the championship "would not only make the 2011 VCU Rams the biggest Cinderella in tournament history, but possibly all-time in any sport," says Matt Ryan at Bleacher Report. They'd easily be the most unlikely NCAA champ ever, topping the 1983 North Carolina State team who won the championship as a No. 6 seed, and the 1985 Villanova team who won as a No. 8 seed. And no champ in any other sport could match them, either. Put simply, the Rams "would stand alone as the greatest underdog in sports history if they win the 2011 Final Four."
"VCU Rams could become greatest Cinderella in sports history"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How U.S. special forces are preparing for the worst-case scenario in North Korea
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- I hate Ayn Rand — but here's why my fellow conservatives love her
- The best online movies to watch this weekend
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The biggest lesson Obama failed to learn from Bush
- The danger of the Democrats' lack of desperation
- The secret to Gabrielle Hamilton's amazing grilled cheese sandwiches
- Hey, Paul Ryan's new poverty plan isn't completely terrible!
Subscribe to the Week