Virginia's emergence this season as a Top 25-caliber team hasn't altered VCU coach Shaka Smart's opinion of who the best programs in the state are.
Asked Monday on a teleconference with reporters whether it's important to him for VCU be considered the state of Virginia's top program, Smart acknowledged that was crucial for recruiting. He then pointed out that Colonial Athletic Association powers VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion have each enjoyed more success than Virginia and Virginia Tech in recent years.
"There's certain schools you end up recruiting against and maybe schools that aren't even in our league that kind of beat their chest and say they have the best program in the state," Smart said. "The reality is if you go by the numbers, if you go by postseason, if you go by guys going to the NBA, the best programs in the state are in the CAA and it's not even close.
"In terms of recent success, in terms of postseason appearances and success, in terms of some of the players that have come through our program, George Mason, Old Dominion, yes, I think we are ahead of them."
Although Smart's argument that it's "not even close" may be a little over the top, it's still difficult to find a season recently before this one in which the state's best team hasn't hailed from the CAA. Virginia Tech has won 19 or more games each of the past five years and Virginia is in the midst of a revival under Tony Bennett, but the CAA trio has enjoyed far more postseason success.
In the last six years, Old Dominion, George Mason and VCU have combined to produce nine NCAA tournament berths, 12 NCAA tournament victories and two Final Fours. In that same time span, Virginia and Virginia Tech have each made one NCAA tournament appearance, both falling in the second round in 2007.
It would be easier to evaluate the disparity between the Virginia's CAA and ACC teams if there was a head-to-head history, but both Virginia Tech and Virginia have traditionally chosen not to schedule Old Dominion, George Mason or VCU.
Virginia did play George Mason for the first time in 14 years in Charlottesville on Dec. 6 and thumped the Patriots 68-48. George Mason also could have earned a matchup with Virginia Tech this season in the quarterfinals of the Preseason NIT but the Patriots lost to Florida International the previous round.
George Mason coach Paul Hewitt previously coached at Georgia Tech, so he has seen both sides of this debate. Although he admitted that Virginia and Virginia Tech may be slightly more athletic in most years, he echoed Smart's sentiments, pointing out that there's no doubt which conference's in-state schools have been more successful.
"I don't think there's any comparison actually from a historical perspective," Hewitt said. "In terms of matchups, player for player, they've got some bigtime players in both of those programs, but the way we're judged these days as coaches is how you do in the NCAA tournament and that kind of speaks for itself."