March 28, 2011
The Final Four is here and March Madness is coming to an end. This year’s tournament has proved to be just as unpredictable as the regular season. Sure, the way the UConn Huskies were playing, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to see them end up in Houston. But Virginia Commonwealth? Butler? Kentucky? This looks almost more like an NIT Final Four than an NCAA Tournament Final Four. We might as well throw in Jimmy Chitwood and the Hickory Hoosiers.
Let’s start with UConn – the Huskies won five consecutive games in the Big East tournament on their way to the Final Four. They were playing their best ball over the past month and because of that, were a trendy pick to get this far. Personally, I didn’t see it. The Big East is a brutal tournament, and Connecticut played those five games in five days. After a tough regular season, even with one of the best basketball players in the nation in Kemba Walker, I figured they’d tire at some point. It hasn’t happened yet, though, and coach Jim Calhoun showed why he’s a Hall of Fame coach. UConn isn’t only in the Final Four again; they also may be the odds on favorites to win.
Kentucky came out of the East region after taking out top seed Ohio State and No. 2 seed North Carolina. The fact that the Wildcats were almost upset in the opening round by 13-seed Princeton is the perfect example of just how crazy this tournament has been. Kentucky now gets the unenviable task of trying to slow down Walker’s Huskies. Sure, they’re led by a freshman in Brandon Knight, but we’ve seen before that first-year players are capable of carrying teams on their backs to win NCAA titles (see Carmelo Anthony and the 2002-03 Syracuse Orange).
On the other side of the bracket, there’s Virginia Commonwealth. After the selection committee chose VCU as a part of the field, lots of analysts, including ESPN’s Jay Bilas, had a field day telling the world just why they didn’t belong. And while their magical run is truly amazing, Bilas had this one right. Virginia Commonwealth’s improbable run doesn’t mean the selection committee did the right thing putting them in the tournament. Their tournament success should really be viewed independently of that selection. That said, they’ve definitely made the most of their opportunity and proved they have an excellent, well-coached team.
They’ll be facing the Butler Bulldogs, another surprise team. Butler reached the championship game last season, falling to Duke in the final seconds. Not many people gave them a chance to win even their first two games but after upsetting Pitt, Butler went even further in knocking off the Wisconsin Badgers and No. 2 seed Florida Gators. The Bulldogs not only have some quality players in Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, but they have experience on their side as much of the team’s roster was on last year’s squad, and they know what it takes to advance in the tournament.
So now what? What should we expect? Well, after going 0-fer in Final Four predictions at the start of the NCAAs, the only prediction I feel comfortable making is this: the madness we’ve seen in March is very likely to spill over into April, and I can’t wait.