Each and every year, the month of March has been synonymous with one thing and one thing only: basketball. Since the spring of 1939, college campuses stacked with dedicated alum, eager student bodies and viewers of all ages come together to watch three divisions of collegiate-level basketball compete on its biggest stage, March Madness.
The tournament itself is a textbook definition of a literal drama. “Perfect bracket” bets are placed with near impossible odds, buzzer beaters anoint lifelong campus heroes, Cinderella story upsets grant moments of euphoria and century-backed rivalries set the stage for some of the most entertaining and emotional moments of athleticism and comradery seen in human history.
But has VCU ever come close to snagging the coveted title of NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Champions? Although we have never won the whoollleee thing, here is a list of every year we Rams have ever come remotely close to a D1 title and a little backstory on how each attempt came to be.
- 2011: First Final Four + Sweet Sixteen
Coming in as our most successful year of D1 college basketball in all of our 19 NCAA appearances, we have the tournament of 2011. Known today as one of the most exciting times to have ever been a Ram, this was an unexpected turn of events, to say the least. After losing to Virginia neighbor Old Dominion University in the CAA Championship game that same year, morale was at an all-time low. Doubts of the team’s experience and even talent ran through the minds of Rams across the country as Selection Sunday awaited them that March.
By a stroke of Ram luck, we BARELY snuck in. In an aim to round out the number of teams and games played in the tournament, the NCAA added three teams just that year to even out the Final Four. Any other year prior and we would have been done before it even began.
So the stage was set, our goal was established and our name was selected. What now? Win, and win we did. As an 11-seed, we upset 6-seed Georgetown in the round of 64, 3-seed Purdue in the round of 32, 10-seed Florida State in the Sweet 16 and 1-seed Kansas in the Elite Eight. Yup, that’s four upsets.
But our Cinderella Story came to an end in the Final Four. Up against the 8-seed Butler D1 team, we lost 70-62 in the national semifinals, two wins short of the national title.
- 1980s: First Taste of NCAA
After VCU established our Men’s basketball program in the 1968-69 season, our first shot at the title came in 1980 with subsequent appearances in 81’, 83’, 84’ and 85’. The decade saw some Ram victories with us making it to the second round in all seasons except our first in 1980 with an early loss against 5-seed Iowa on March 6th of that year. Second-round losses came in an overtime defeat against 4-seed Tennessee in 81’, a one-possession loss against 4-seed Georgia in 83’, a 78-63 score loss against 3-seed Syracuse in 84’ and a four-point defeat by 7-seed Alabama in 85’.
- 1996: Only 90s Appearance
Coming in as a 12-seed team for the 96’ March Madness tournament, VCU wound up seven points short against Mississippi State in the first-round game on Pie Day of that year (what a terrible day to be sad!). This was our only NCAA appearance in the 90s leaving us without a taste of the title for over a decade before and just under a decade after with our next appearance in 2004.
- 2000s: Three Shots at the Title
The 2000s brought about an NCAA renaissance in the VCU Men’s Basketball program with shots at the championship in 2004, 2007 and 2009. Our only win came in 2007 after a first-round nailbiter over 6-seed Duke, final score 79-77. We then lost in overtime in a 3-seed Pittsburg defeat, 84-79. As for the other two appearances, VCU came up one point short in BOTH first rounds with a loss to 4-seed Wake Forest in 2004 and a 6-seed UCLA defeat in 2009. In other words, this decade looms in the hearts of many VCU alumni.
- 2010s: Season of Selection
Coming off of the previous decade, VCU was determined to turn our track record around. With a shocking eight tournament appearances, the Rams only missed out on the 2010 and 2018 postseason madness. After failing to advance the previous year, 2011 was the year we finally broke out of our first/second round funk (which I covered in depth above). However this trend continued throughout the decade. 2012, 2013 and 2016 saw the Rams make it past round one with victories over Wichita State (5-seed), Akron (12-seed) and Oregon State (7-seed). However, we had no success in the second round this decade either. First-round losses came in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2019.
- 2021: The Team That Never Played
After the entire tournament was canceled due to COVID-19 the year prior, hopes were high in 2021 for a possible Rams championship title. After Selection Sunday placed the team in round one as a 10-seed against 7-seed Oregon, morale was high as the pandemic still loomed around the world. Yet, in an almost predictable yet devastating turn of events, four positive tests pulled the plug. Two days short of the first-round game, the NCAA made the executive decision to force our forfeit and send us back home. “We were in March Madness, we just didn’t get to play,” said current Head Coach Mike Rhoades. “I keep saying that maybe somebody sneezed in front of our guys at the wrong time. Who knows?”
- 2023: Latest Attempt
Yet again VCU has hit a “round-one stump.” We were SOL this Saint Patrick’s Day as Saint Mary’s outscored us 63-51 in the March 17th matchup. Saint Mary’s went on to subsequently lose to UConn, a team still in the tournament with the Final Four set to begin April 1st. Maybe next year we will see a VCU Final Four win! A Ram can only hope.