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Farewell to BracketBusters bittersweet for VCU fans

With just seconds to play, Joey Rodriguez drove the length of the court before drawing a foul that would put him at the line for the game winners en route to a 68-67 thrilling win over the MVC’s Wichita State Shockers. Less than a month later, VCU was one of the surprise selections into the 2011 NCAA tournament, an invitation they ran with all the way to the Final 4.

Having lost the two games following their ESPN BracketBusters matchup against the Shockers, the crucial February road win proved to be the RPI bump the Rams desperately needed late in the season.

Exactly five years prior, fellow CAA BracketBusters George Mason were also matched up with the Shockers. The Patriots flew home hours later with the 70-67 “W”, a win they would also need to punch their 2006 at-large bid, coincidentally one they also parlayed into their first-ever Final 4 appearance.

Two CAA teams, two 11 seeds, two historic runs to the Final 4 that may never have happened had ESPN not matched up the teams when the Virginia schools needed the highly important, RPI-boosting, nationally televised contests the most in their histories.

Starting this year, the late season pairings will no longer be an option for CAA schools.

Following a recent CAA TV deal with the new NBC Sports Network, the Colonial Athletic Association will no longer be invited to compete in the event. While Ram fans may reflect nostalgically on the battles with Missouri Valley contenders Wichita State and Northern Iowa, some will fondly bid adieu to what, more often that not, seemed to result in a yearly forced home-and-home with the Akron Zips.

VCU was fortunate enough to be on the televised end of the BracketBusters matchups more often than most, but for many CAA schools, a non-conference February pairing just meant a date with a middling American East or Southern Conference squad.

The CAA’s exclusion from the event will no doubt diminish the quality of the contests, leaving a few marquee teams from the MVC to compete with what few known Universities are left.

The majority of the top non-BCS conferences have already passed on inclusion into the event, including VCU’s rumored future home, the Atlantic 10 conference.

Shaka Smart’s squad will now have an additional game to schedule each year, and with the nation’s hottest young coach and a growing national Q rating, finding good games shouldn’t be a problem for the talented young group from VCU.

About Mat Shelton-Eide

VCU School of the Arts (BFA '07) and Center for Sport Leadership (M.Ed. '10) alumnus, Mat has followed VCU basketball since the Sunbelt days when he'd attend games with his father. Worked as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department for the '09-'10 season, but has covered VCU basketball for VCURamNation.com since 2007. mshelton@vcuramnation.com @MatShelton