Virginia Commonwealth Coach Shaka Smart created a bit of a stir Monday morning when he said, regarding basketball in the state of Virginia, that “the reality is if you go by the numbers, if you go by postseason, if you go by even guys going to the NBA, the best programs in the state are in the CAA. It’s really not even close.”
George Mason Coach Paul Hewitt followed that comment up by pointing out that Virginia and Virginia Tech possess talented rosters, but programs are judged by how frequently they earn NCAA tournament bids and by how far they advance once they’re in the NCAA tournament.
That being the case, Hewitt said, the CAA programs in the state of Virginia are better than the state’s ACC teams. Hewitt, by the way, spent the past 11 years as the head coach at Georgia Tech (an ACC school) before taking over in Fairfax last spring.
While Virginia owns a 17-3 record and the No. 16 spot in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll, the arguments made by Smart and Hewitt hold up when measured over recent history. In the past decade, the three CAA schools in the state of Virginia (George Mason, VCU and Old Dominion) have combined for 11 NCAA tournament bids, three Sweet 16 appearances and two Final Four berths.
The state’s two ACC programs (Virginia and Virginia Tech) have combined for two NCAA appearances – neither of which lasted longer than the tournament’s first weekend – during that same span.
VCU (231), Old Dominion (215) and George Mason (208) also have tallied more wins over the past 10 seasons than have Virginia Tech (176) or Virginia (159), though it could be argued that regular season conference wins are harder to come by in the ACC than in the CAA.
George Mason and VCU are 18-5 so far this season. Old Dominion is 14-9.
Virginia went 3-0 against CAA opponents in non-conference play this season, including wins over two of the CAA’s top three teams. The Cavaliers defeated Drexel, 49-35, on Nov. 19; George Mason, 68-48, on Dec. 6; and Towson, 57-50, on Dec. 30.
Virginia Tech (12-9) did not play against a CAA team in non-conference play this season. Hokies Coach Seth Greenberg had no comment Monday on Smart’s statement comparing the caliber of the state’s CAA and ACC men’s basketball programs.
When asked for his thoughts on the issue Monday, Virginia Coach Tony Bennett remained diplomatic. He noted the adage that the toughest league in the country is the one you’re in.
“Well, Shaka’s a very good coach, and I certainly respect him,” Bennett said. “That’s one man’s opinion. I think it’s a very good league. I certainly respect it. We played George Mason and Drexel, which are two very good teams. … Having coached in the Big Ten, the Pac-10 at the time and now here, and also played in a mid-major league at Wisconsin-Green Bay, you know, there’s great basketball all over the country.
“I think there are some, night in and night out when you’re going against a team, at least I can comment on the ACC, it’s a battle. The physicality, the size, the talent level, there’s certainly great challenges that you face top to bottom in a league like the ACC. But that doesn’t take anything away from really any league or the CAA. But I know one of the toughest leagues is the one you’re playing in. I certainly respect Shaka, and he’s entitled to his opinion.”