Can you believe that some folks are suggesting that the NCAA should implement some kind of BCS-like system for the Men’s Basketball Tournament? The traditionalists are crying that too many “Cinderellas” made the Final Four. What has been lost amidst all of the upsets is that we have been treated to some exciting basketball over the past three weeks.
There were several games that went down to the wire in each round. In the second round, formerly known as the opening round, there were 13 games decided by five points or less. Then you had three great games in the Elite 8.
This is the first Final Four without a number one or two seed. Virginia Commonwealth University(VCU) took out the last number 1 seed with their 71-61 victory over Kansas. So does this mean that there is a turning of the tide regarding the “Big Boys” reign being over as far as dominating the college basketball landscape? I don’t think so. It just means that the gap between the “Big Boys” and “Mid-Majors” is narrowing.
UCONN and Kentucky still made it to the Final Four. They are just being joined by one unlikely visitor in VCU and an emerging powerhouse in Butler. Let’s get one thing straight here, Butler can no longer be considered a “Cinderella.” You do not make
consecutive Final Fours and still retain the Cinderella label. The Bulldogs struggled midway during this campaign and were thought to be long shots to even make the field back in late February. However, that is the beauty of college basketball. As long as you are invited to the dance, you have a legitimate shot at making some noise during the party. And no one showed that more than VCU.
VCU lost to Old Dominion University by 15 points in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game. They did not even get together to watch the Tournament Selection Show. But when their name was announced, they believed that they were going to raise some eyebrows. They defeated representatives from the Pac-10, Big East, Big-10, ACC and the Big-12 on the road to the Final Four in Houston. For a team that very few thought should have been invited to The Dance, they might just walk away with the homecoming king crown. Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, and Brandon Rozzell have been playing on a different level for head coach Shaka Smart.
VCU and Butler did not “luck up” and find their way to Houston. They earned their way. It is a shame that these two teams have to square off in the national semifinals. At least, we are guaranteed to have one of the Little Darlings in the Finals against the Big Boys.
Speaking of the Big Boys, we still have UCONN and Kentucky. The Huskies might be considered “nouveau riche,” while the Wildcats are looked upon as “old money.” The one thing that is for sure, these are two of the elite programs in college basketball. Jim Calhoun’s Huskies are led by Kemba Walker, who has had one of the more impressive tournament runs since Danny Manning put Kansas on his back and led them to 1988 title, or Carmelo Anthony led the Syracuse Orangemen to the title in 2003. But the one difference between Walker and Manning is that Walker is getting a little more help from his friends.
Jeremy Lamb is evolving into s star right before our very eyes. Shabazz Napier is developing into a legitimate point guard which has taken the pressure off of Walker, allowing him to be even more effective.
Winning five games in as many days during the Big East Conference was impressive but the way UCONN withstood the body blows from Arizona was something else. Derrick Walker, the reincarnation of Len Bias, threw down some dunks and hit three pointers that would have sent most teams back to the locker rooms sucking their thumbs in a fetal position. However, Walker and Lamb answered each blow with a nice counter punch. UCONN did not fold when the heat was turned up.
We also have to tip our hats to head coach John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats. Calipari sent five players to the NBA off of last year’s Elite 8 squad. Yet this was no rebuilding year in the Blue Grass state. No, Kentucky, especially, under Calipari, does not rebuild, they reload. Freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones knocked down big shots leading the Wildcats to victories over Ohio State and North Carolina. Upper classmen Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins, who watched freshmen take their minutes last year, made their presence felt during this run as well.
This year’s Final Four edition has a little something for everybody. You have your traditional powers in UCONN and Kentucky. You have your emerging power in Butler and a party crasher in VCU. You also have your prime time players like Walker, Knight, Skeen and Rodriguez. This Final Four should be a classic despite no number one or two seeds. It does not mean that college basketball needs to change anything. It just means that the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” is narrowing.