So, if I am reading this right, and I’d like to think that I am, VCU and Butler are in the Final Four. Not only that, but they aren’t joined by number one seeds or pre-tournament favorites. Kentucky and Connecticut were hot coming into the tournament, but were hardly chalk. In fact, in UConn’s case, their success in the Big East Tournament was considered by some a detriment to their overall chances. Now, they’ve won 9 games in a row, multiple in thrilling fashion and find themselves in what many would consider the de facto championship game against Kentucky.
A couple of weeks ago before this tournament started I said I was looking for something aside from the usual chalk. I then went ahead and picked chalk in my pools, but that isn’t the point. The qualifier I made, though, was that I wanted to see one of these teams take it all the way out. Claim the prize, and not just make a Final Four run. A quick aside, is there any other sporting event where making the semi-finals is considered such a feat? Is it because Final Four is such a snappy name? If we could say that Andy Reid has been to five Final Fours would that make you more comfortable with him as the Eagles coach? Do we think some of these college coaches that have been to Final Fours are getting too much credit? Or is it the nature of the single elimination format?
Anyway, back to the underdogs. These two Final Four teams, VCU and Butler, certainly qualify as long shots. Butler is making a return appearance to the Final Four where they were considered a bit of an interloper last season. This year, after losing their best player to the NBA and ballooning to an eight seed they are back. VCU is in even more foreign territory. I don’t remember a team ever getting as much junk piled on it for making the field than VCU did on Selection Sunday. Their entrance into the field was treated as a crime against humanity and teams like Colorado were left on the outside looking in at undeserving and pathetic VCU. Well, VCU won a “First Four” game. Then they started beating everyone. The culminating win over Kansas Sunday has to be one of the bigger upsets in tournament history.
It is a shame that they’ll play Butler in the semi-finals. It guarantees that one of these teams will play for the championship, but Final Four Saturday might have been more interesting if we had two underdogs taking on tournament powerhouses. I’m not sure which team has captured America’s imagination more at this point…VCU or Butler? Butler has the familiarity, but VCU is out of nowhere and they’ve had the more impressive and improbable run. Personally, I think I have to roll with VCU. Butler had their shine last year. The question is, is Connecticut or Kentucky beatable in the Final? I think they are.
Something else about how this tournament played out was brought up to me by Big Dub yesterday. He mentioned that some people could use this NCAA free for all that we’ve seen over the past two weeks to argue that the BCS is a good enough system for college football. The point being, honestly, who really wants to see this Butler/VCU semi-final? There’s no way it can be good for ratings. And, while you have a natural underdog story line set up for the final, would the public in general, the TV people and everyone else have been more satisfied with a Kansas/Ohio State final? Or Duke/Anyone? I have to say that the tournament seems to be getting more wide open in recent years. If VCU or Butler wins this thing it will feel a bit like a lottery, and no one will be able to argue that they are the best team in the tournament, but this is what has been happening in tournament formats forever. College basketball just always had a pronounced gap between the top-10 teams and everyone else and now that is not the case.
3-Putt Territory Pool Update:
Needless to say, this wasn’t a real glamorous year for picking the games. Over half of our pool field does not have a single Final Four team left. That feels unprecedented. That said, Gus Johnson had put together a great run to the Final 8 and built enough of a lead that he still has a chance to win even though he pegged Kansas like everyone else. By the way, this is the 2nd straight year that Kansas has burned a ton of people. When will we learn? Giving Gus Johnson a run for his money is Rand, who has been lying the weeds the whole time, but proudly still has those Kentucky Wildcats left in his bracket. It’s Kentucky vs. the Field for the 3-Putt trophy. Buckle Up.