NCAA Final Four: Kentucky, UConn, VCU, Butler
For this sports fan, few events offer a prolonged and sustained period of sports enjoyment than the NCAA Men’s Championship Basketball Tournament, affectionately referred to as “March Madness.” As exciting as this annual pilgrimage through the brackets is, we usually find ourselves starting at fearsome foursome of at or near top seeds during the Final Four weekend. Not so in 2011. Salute the infiltration of the Mid-Majors to the Final Four.
This weekend’s games are comprised of the #4 seed Kentucky Wildcats playing the #3 seed Connecticut Huskies (Saturday, 6:09PM EST) and the #11 Virginia Commonwealth Rams playing the #8 Butler Bulldogs. When I watch the tournament every year, after rooting for my local interests, I secondarily have a secret crush on the underdogs. Yeah, I’m telling you that my ultimate wish would be to see four #16 seeds make it to the Final Four and set the bracket right on its ear.
I have no doubt that basketball purists would argue that this would be the worst thing to happen during the tournament because “truly the best teams” wouldn’t end up the Champions of NCAA College Basketball. Unfortunately for those purists, this isn’t what the tournament is about. It’s about being the best team on the floor, against your opponent, every single day you’re scheduled to play. You do that and you are deservedly the Champion of the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament. As unlikely as that is to ever happen, I’m thrilled to know that either a #8 seed or a #11 seed will make the final game. Yes, I am rooting for the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams to win the whole thing.
Most people will pick the Butler Bulldogs to take this one due to their sheer size and strength. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that a stout defense is what it takes to win big games at all levels of this sport. Butler turns solid defense into points on the transition, and we should expect Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard to continue to close the offense emphatically.
VCU, my pick to win, can get around Butler’s outstanding play with their speed. Toss out whatever cliche’ you want here (I’m thinking “speed kills”), but that combined with their above average outside shooting skills – it wouldn’t surprise me to see them work both angles. Run through the defense. If it fails, shoot over it.
UConn, on the heels of their ninth straight victory, has single-handedly rescued the Big East from the hurricane of criticism borne of early ousters from the Tournament. Few should argue that these guys are the favorite after rolling through San Diego State and Arizona. Here’s my view: keep playing like you have and you’ll win it all. That’s a pretty simple concept.
Kentucky has strength in leadership coached by John Calipari. However, on the floor, that’s a different story, putting on the court freshman at three of the five starting positions. I’m not sure that coaching is going to be the difference-maker this late in the tournament. These guys will be champions in the years to come, but I don’t see it happening this year, despite hard-fought wins against Ohio State and North Carolina. Take the lessons learned in 2011 and we’ll see you in the Final Four next year.
My Top Two, Championship Game Matchup Prediction: #11 Virginia Commonwealth University Rams vs. University of Connecticut Huskies.
Enjoy the games. I have.