Commentary

CBB Summer Buzz: VCU

After a trip to the Final Four last season, Shaka Smart and the Rams begin anew

Updated: August 26, 2011, 2:04 PM ET
By Eric Angevine | ESPN Insider
Joey Rodriguez, Shaka SmartAP Photo/Jim PrischingFinding a replacement for PG Joey Rodriguez (left) is one of Shaka Smart's top priorities this fall.

Insider knows you're hot for hoops during the summer, so we're bringing you a closer look at a few of the big-profile schools before most freshmen have even moved into their dorms. We conclude with the VCU Rams.

Virginia Commonwealth Rams

2010-11: 28-12 (NCAA tournament -- Final Four)

Shaka Smart, four VCU seniors and junior Bradford Burgess, surrounded by legendary athletes, soaking in adulation as they accept the ESPY for "Best Upset," honoring their upending of the big, bad Kansas Jayhawks in the Elite Eight.

Freeze that moment, then roll back the film. So much went into that celebratory instant.

In November, the Rams beat UCLA in Madison Square Garden, providing a preview of their big-win capabilities. Then they lost at South Florida, and dropped another at crosstown demi-rival Richmond. Come the end of January, however, they were humming along atop the CAA with a 10-1 league mark, looking ready to run away with the regular-season championship.

February was chaos, as the Rams lost home games to George Mason, James Madison and archrival Old Dominion. The season looked wrecked until a conference tourney run to a championship-game loss -- ODU again -- left VCU on the thin part of the bubble. A bubble that, surprisingly, didn't burst.

"There was so much excitement when we got picked that we didn't even realize who we were playing for a while," says VCU's third-year coach, Shaka Smart. "Then all of a sudden, after 10 or 15 minutes of celebrating and hugs and slappin' fives, I turned to my assistant and said, 'Now, who are we playing?' and he says, 'USC,' so I said, 'Let's go to work.'"