By LCR Contributor Barrell Rider
The 2011 Final Four is set. In the Goliath semi-final we have a matchup of traditional powers Kentucky and UConn. On the David side of the bracket, we have party crashers Virginia Commonwealth University and last season’s Cinderella, the Butler Bulldogs making an encore.
Butler made an improbable and magnificent run last season, falling one basket short of a national title in its loss to Duke. This season the Butler Bulldogs struggled early, starting the season 16-9 and 4-5 in conference play. But Butler put together a run, winning its conference tournament and receiving an automatic bid to the big dance. After a thrilling buzzer beater in its opener versus Old Dominion, the Bulldogs once again went into their tourney mode, taking down #1 seed Pittsburg from the mighty Big East, Wisconsin of the Big Ten and the SEC regular season champs and #2 seed Florida Gators. Butler has now won 13 straight games.
Virginia Commonwealth University is making its first ever appearance in the Final Four. The Rams run to the Final Four is equally as impressive and just as shocking as Butler’s two appearances. The Rams have gone from First Four to Final Four as they faced the USC Trojans in a play in game to qualify as an 11 seed. VCU has defeated a team from every major power conference in basketball having beaten USC (Pac-10), Georgetown (Big East), Purdue (Big-10), Florida State (ACC) and #1 seed Kansas (Big-12).
Kentucky is no stranger to the Final Four as the Wildcats are making their 14th appearance, this season is the first time UK has been there since 1998, a long drought by their standards. The Wildcats have also won 7 national titles. Kentucky took down the #1 overall seed Ohio State 62-60 in one of the best games of the entire tournament. UK then defeated North Carolina in the Elite 8 to complete their run to the Final Four. UK has displayed great defense and has seen excellent balance offensively with several players sharing the point totals. Kentucky has also closed games impressively, executed very well down the stretch.
Despite being considered a power program, the UCONN Huskies have made an improbable run to the Final Four in a season filled with controversy, turmoil and inconsistency. The NCAA found UCONN guilty of multiple recruiting violations in the offseason which resulted in the resignation of two assistant coaches and a 3 game suspension by head coach Jim Calhoun to start Big East Conference play in fall of 2011. Multiple players, both current and former, also received suspensions. Amidst all of the media scrutiny and doubt as to the future of their head coach, once again the Huskies find themselves in the Final Four having defeated the likes of Big East foe Cincinnati, streaking San Diego State, and red hot Arizona. UCONN is also lead by one of the nation’s finest players Kemba Walker who averages 23.9 pts and 4.6 assists. Walker has been amazing in the tournament scoring 33 versus Cincinnati, 36 vs. SDSU and 20 vs. Arizona.
The final three games should provide some great enjoyment for basketball fans. Who do you like to win it all?
In the Semi-final I think Butler edges VCU in a fantastic game 73-68, the Bulldogs have been here before. Kentucky outpunches UCONN and holds on for a 68-66 win. Kentucky wins their 8th championship by downing Butler in another thriller 75-50.
BTW, the NCAA tourney generates spending equal to Iceland's GDP. Check it out!