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Wearing Devilish Grin, Rams on to Buffalo


By now, who isn't sick of the Cinderella talk and the slipper clichés, and all the jocular wordsmiths at ESPN, which has built a hoops empire around "bracketology."

If you're Anthony Grant, the men's basketball coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, maybe not so much.

The bubble talk and Dickie Vitale's bald head might have worn a bit thin if Grant's Rams hadn't won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament more than a week ago, securing an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Without the win, they would have been left to sit on the bubble, nervously nibbling catered chicken wings as the brackets were unveiled during the ritual that has become "Selection Sunday."

The overextended hype was a thing of beauty to VCU President Eugene Trani, who greeted a steady stream of players March 11 as the team, coaches and family gathered in the Founders Room at the Siegel Center, which has a carpeted balcony that overlooks the court..

Well-run basketball programs become great marketing, especially when your first-round opponent is Duke, hoops royalty. It doesn't hurt that this year's Blue Devils are turnover-prone and struggle against full-court traps — a VCU specialty.

Yes, Duke is chock-full of good passers and decent shooters, but also second-tier athletes in the mold of former guard Jeff Capel, the former coach of the Rams who left last year to take over as head coach at Oklahoma.

Irony? More than a few bracketologists are picking VCU. Grant, a stoic, calm presence on the sidelines who cites "character" as his team's most important attribute, stood expressionless during the selection ceremony as his players celebrated. He kissed his daughter.

His "it's not about me" mannerisms and militaristic emphasis on preparation appear to have rubbed off on the players, who filed onto the carpeted balcony to call friends and family shortly after learning of their bracket.

Eric Maynor, the sophomore guard who willed his Rams to a CAA title over George Mason University — the team that went to the Final Four last year as the ultimate Cinderella — was trying to call his father.

At first blush, it's difficult to tell if Maynor and his teammates are genuinely excited to be playing Duke in a down year, or just caught up in the moment. They are, after all, playing in Buffalo, N.Y.

"We feel like every game we play, we got a chance to win," Maynor says, conjuring up the typical "Duke is always a great team" respect-inducing clichés. But as soon as a reporter steps away, he lets a little one slip.

"I'll make it rain on 'em!" he yelps, clutching his cell phone. S

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