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- American basketball player-coach
Shaka Smart has collected more than 100 pages of motivational quotes to share with his players, so it's no surprise the VCU coach had one ready to support his position that the CAA's top teams merit at-large consideration.
Asked whether co-leaders Drexel, George Mason and VCU having RPIs in the 80s and 90s suggested the league would only receive one NCAA tournament bid this year, Smart began his rebuttal by citing a well-known quote from one of America's most celebrated authors.
"You can go by the numbers," Smart said "but Mark Twain says there are three types of lies: 'Lies, damn lies and statistics.'
"The reality is the RPI and strength of schedule, most of that is based on what happens in November and December, and I don't think anyone would argue that a vast majority of teams in our league are extremely different than they were in December. A lot of teams have made major improvements and added guys back from injury or suspension. If you went back and played those games again, it might go differently."
Smart's argument sums up why this weekend's BracketBusters games will be an especially vital litmus test for the CAA's top teams. Drexel, George Mason and VCU don't have at-large worthy resumes at this point after struggling out of conference, yet each receive one final chance to prove to the selection committee that they've improved enough to be worthy of a closer look.
• Drexel's leading returning scorer Chris Fouch missed the Dragons' opening two losses as a result of offseason knee surgery and played sparingly in their next two, but they've now won 19 of 20 since that 2-4 start.
• VCU needed a month to figure out how to replace the four starters it lost from last year's Final Four team, but the Rams (22-5, 13-2) have won 11 straight since a six-point loss at Drexel on Jan. 8.
• George Mason (21-6, 13-2) lost to the likes of Florida Atlantic and Florida International in November, but the Patriots have surged since point guard Andre Cornelius returned from a season-opening 10-game suspension and reentered the starting lineup.
"We didn't have (Cornelius) for the first 10 games, and clearly that was our worst 10-game stretch of the season," George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. "Since he's been back, we've been a much better team and I would argue that if he played those first 10 games, the conversation around us would be much, much different."
Hewitt insists "the league will get at least two teams," but most bracket projections suggest otherwise at this point.
Yahoo! Sports' "Bracket Big Board" has VCU as a No. 14 seed and no other CAA team in the NCAA tournament. ESPN.com's Bracketology has Drexel as a No. 14 seed and no other CAA teams in the field. And SI.com's Bracket Watch had Drexel as a No. 13 seed last week with no other CAA teams making the cut.
The best opportunity for the CAA trio to make an at-large case will be for the league to collectively perform well enough in BracketBusters to raise each member's RPI. The problem is that none of the top teams drew especially attractive matchups, with VCU hosting Northern Iowa, Drexel visiting Cleveland State and George Mason hosting Lamar.
"If we have collective success, then I think it shows the strength of our league," Hewitt said. "We have a younger league this year and maybe didn't pick off some of the games out of conference that CAA teams have done over the years, but if we have a strong showing in BracketBusters, I think it will help our overall RPIs and the recognition that this is a very good league."