Four Teams Remain in 2011 NCAA Tournament

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The Final Four begins on Saturday, April 2.

Jesse Buchsbaum

 

The Final Four begins on Saturday, April 2.

Wow. There’s no other word to describe the 2010 NCAA tournament. Two weeks into March Madness, just four teams remain. And it’s safe to say that almost no one in America expected this combination of teams to make up the legendary Final Four.

The early rounds of the madness certainly didn’t disappoint, especially after the first day of the round of 64. Many critics dubbed it the best opening day in March Madness history. There were a total of six out of sixteen games that were within three points at the buzzer, and there were three major upsets as six-seed St. John’s, five-seed Vanderbilt, and four-seed Louisville all went down to double-digit seeds.

The second day was almost as good as the first, with three major upsets grabbing the headlines once again. 11-seed VCU shocked Georgetown, Florida State beat seven-seed Texas A&M, and 11-seed Marquette upset Xavier. March 18 also brought hope for the Wolverines, as Michigan blew out Tennessee by 30 points, far more than any analysts predicted.

The next two days, March 19 and 20, brought the fall of number one seed, Pittsburgh, number two seed, Notre Dame, and two number three seeds, Syracuse and Purdue.  San Diego State, Duke, and North Carolina also survived scares against lower seeded teams in the third round.

The second week began with Arizona beating Duke in a blowout. Butler also followed their victory over Pittsburgh with another win, this time over Wisconsin. This win put them in the Elite Eight. VCU, an 11-seed also continued their improbable run into the Elite Eight with a win over Florida State.

It was the round of eight that brought the greatest drama yet, however. It started on March 26, as Butler played Florida and Connecticut took on Arizona. In the Butler vs. Florida game, the Bulldogs’ star player, Shelvin Mack, gave Butler faithful a scare in the first half, after rolling his ankle and briefly leaving the game. Butler trailed by 11 points with under ten minutes to play, before they stormed back to send the game into overtime. Mack knocked down a three-pointer with just over a minute to play in overtime to give the Bulldogs the lead for good. Butler, led by Mack’s 27 points, found their way into the Final Four for the second straight year, again as a low seed.

In the second game of the day, Kemba Walker and Connecticut were able to come out on top over Derrick Williams and Arizona, 65-63. Walker and Jeremy Lamb combined for 39 points, as the Huskies picked up their ninth win in just 19 days. Arizona’s Jamelle Horn missed a wide open three-pointer at the buzzer, giving Connecticut an improbably Final Four appearance.

On March 27th, the biggest upset of the tournament took place. Virginia Commonwealth, a team that many (including this reporter) claimed did not belong in the tournament, took on Kansas, one of the favorites in the tournament. VCU dominated the whole game, as they went up by 14 at halftime, and spent the second half fending off runs by the Jayhawks en route a ten point victory. This win guaranteed VCU, an 11-seed, just the third Final Four appearance ever by an 11-seed.

Kentucky took on North Carolina in the day’s second game, and freshman Brandon Knight led the Wildcats to a 76-69 win over the Tar Heels. Kentucky shot over 50% from three-point range, which allowed the Wildcats to pull away down the stretch. As a four-seed, Kentucky was the fourth and final time to make it to Houston. This year marked the first time since the tournament expanded to 48 teams in 1979 that the Final Four included no one or two seeds.

VCU vs. Butler

In the lowest seeded game in Final Four history, Virginia Commonwealth will have an uphill battle against them. Butler has seen this stage before, and has the experience of the Final Four under their belt from last year. VCU, however, likes being the underdog, and it will be interesting to see how that suits them on the biggest stage.

VCU, led by point guard Joey Rodriguez will have to show up big, hitting shots from the outside all night long if they want to have a chance in the game. Coach Shaka Smart is one of the best coaches in the country, and there is no doubt that he will come up with a brilliant game plan to beat the Bulldogs, but the question will be if VCU can execute well enough to come out on top.

Butler, led by seniors Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, have the experience of the Final Four in their minds from last year. However, they have been underdogs every step of the way, both this year and last year. As the favorite, it will be interesting to see if that can bring the same intensity and grit to the game that fans are so used to seeing.

Overall, Butler is undoubtedly the more talented and experienced team. Despite VCU’s hot streak, the Bulldogs have the advantage in almost every category, and this will catch up to VCU by the end of the game. At the final buzzer, Butler will have advanced to the NCAA Championship game for the second time in as many years, again on an improbable run. Butler 61 VCU 54

Kentucky vs. Connecticut

The Wildcats and the Huskies meet for the second time this season on Saturday night, and this time, the stage is much more memorable. The first time the teams played, in the Maui Invitational, Kemba Walker stole the show for the Huskies as he scored 29 points to go with 6 assists, in Connecticut’s 17 point win. This time, Kentucky hopes for a different outcome.

Brandon Knight had one of his worst games of the season on that night on November 24, scoring just six points. However, since that game, Knight has developed into a great player, as well as a leader for the Wildcats. He has hit the game winning shot in two of the Wildcats’ four tournament victories, and has carried the entire team on his back for much of the season. Josh Harrellson has also developed into a leader for the Wildcats, providing a burst of energy and an inside presence every time he steps on the floor.

Connecticut, on the other hand, is clearly led by Walker, one of the team’s few upperclassmen. Walker is undoubtedly one of best players in the country, and he will have to show it on Saturday night. Jeremy Lamb, another guard for U-Conn has also been huge in the tournament, as has point guard Shabazz Napier. These three players will be the key for the Huskies.

With two young teams in Connecticut and Kentucky, the early going will likely be sloppy and hurried, but as the game goes on, each team will show why they belong in the Final Four. In the end, though, Kemba Walker will be too much for the Wildcats to handle, and Connecticut will play their way into a national title game. Connecticut 67 Kentucky 63