Texas and Tennessee were never real threats. St. John's probably could have been, but they moved fast once Danny Hurley inked his extension at Rhode Island. Despite the loud obnoxiousness of some Charlotte fans on Twitter, the 49ers were not at all a threat.
VCU, though. That's a threat.
We all know the Rams. Eight years ago they upset Duke in Buffalo. Four years ago they advanced from the inaugural "First Four" to the Final Four. They've used Shaka Smart's signature 'Havoc' defense to become a national staple in a strong basketball conference.
Now Shaka is gone and Virginia Commonwealth could be the most serious threat to pull Bobby Hurley out of Western New York. Anecdotally, there's more Twitter buzz tonight as I write this from VCU fans than there was from any of the aforementioned fan bases.
What can VCU offer?
In 2013, the Rams built a new contract with Smart that guaranteed him approximately 1.45 million per year. Given that Shaka had already brought them to the Final Four by then, they were spending for a proven winner who in four years as a head coach had never won fewer than 27 games. Presumably, Hurley would garner a smaller offer.
VCU is in the Atlantic 10. Regardless of the MAC's improvement, that's a superior conference one that pushes the boundaries of "mid-major," and routinely sends multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament.
In Richmond, Virginia, VCU offers an opportunity to recruit and coach in ACC territory without going head to head against Duke.
Thanks to Smart's Havoc Defense, the Rams already have a team with strong fitness who could adapt to the pace of the Hurley system.
What can't VCU offer?
In this extremely troubling hypothetical, I wouldn't be surprised to see someone follow Hurley to Richmond. Shannon Evans is from nearby Suffolk and Maurice O'Field hasn't signed anything to commit to Buffalo yet. But as it becomes more and more clear that Bobby really loves coaching for the opportunity to live through his team, he wouldn't be able to pick everyone up and take them to Virginia.
VCU can't offer a recruiting footprint that really meshes with Hurley's connections. If you can get good players, you can get good players, but for the most part Hurley's recruiting has been the Nate Oats Pipeline from the Great Lakes, while VCU's has been similarly regional. It would be harder to pull Chicago- and Detroit-area players down to the lower Chesapeake.
Depending on how much less salary VCU is willing to spend on Smart's successor, the relative cost of living between Buffalo and Richmond could come into play. Grasping at straws, I know.
I'm sure there's more on each side of the coin, but I don't want to belabor the point: In many ways VCU may be more attractive than DePaul, especially when it comes to winning.
For all the hoopla earlier this week, Bobby never really said anything unequivocal, nor did he go beyond how he was feeling in the moment. Jeff Goodman of ESPN apparently believes "with near certainty" that Bobby's back next year, but he hasn't signed the supposed new contract yet.
Maybe VCU will do what St. John's did and not even look at Hurley despite the fit. Adam Zagoria is tweeting that early candidates include former Rams assistants Will Wade (Chattanooga) and Mike Rhoades (Rice), and former head coaches Anthony Grant (Alabama) and Jeff Capel (Duke asst) are also likely on the table.
But until either the Rams or Hurley finishes up their business, we once again wait nervously.