After as dramatic a weekend as we’ve ever seen in March Madness, Al Dannity reviews how four unlikely contenders made it to the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
From First Four to Final Four
The NCAA couldn’t have asked for a better validation of the new series of play-in games, known as the First Four, than VCU’s historic run through the tournament. The Rams were already in unchartered territory when they played in the Sweet Sixteen on Friday. By the end of their 71-61 victory over #1 seed Kansas, VCU had become only the third #11 seed to make the Final Four. What makes the Rams stand out from George Mason in 2006 and LSU in 1986, is just how dominant they have been in the tournament. Aside from Friday’s overtime win over Florida State, VCU have won by double-digits in all their tournament games. The school from Richmond, Virginia, has dominated programs like Georgetown, USC, and Purdue. Now they can add Kansas, NCAA Basketball royalty, to that list.
Can we still call Butler a Cinderella?
A game between a team that finished fourth in the CAA and one that ended up in a three-way tie for the Horizon League crown sounds like a good fit for ESPN’s Bracketbusters. This year it’s the first of the two Final Four match-ups. Butler will face VCU on Saturday after the Bulldogs beat #2 seed Florida 74-71 in the Elite Eight. College Basketball betting fans are familiar with Butler after the Indiana school went all the way to the National Championship game last year. Still, little was expected of the #8 seed Bulldogs having entered March Madness with little fanfare. Despite losing Gordon Hayward, the star of last year’s run, to the NBA, Butler have managed to do the impossible for the second year running. That experience could count for a lot this weekend.
More than just Kemba
Having relied heavily on the cold-blooded accuracy of Kemba Walker through much of their current nine-game winning run, the Connecticut Huskies showed depth when it mattered on Saturday night. While Walker once again put up 20 points, he was ably assisted by freshman Jeremy Lamb as UConn outlasted Arizona 65-63. Lamb scored 19 points and had 4 rebounds to take some of the pressure off the Naismith candidate’s shoulders.
Coach Cal does it again
John Calipari has held three head coaching positions in Division I Men’s Basketball. All three programs have now made it to the Final Four. While the achievements with UMass and Memphis were later vacated, Calipari’s success is still a wonder to behold. It’s strange that his Final Four trip with Kentucky, one of the most successful programs of all time, proved the most surprising of the three. This year’s UK team was seen as good but not great, due largely to the Wildcats losing all but two of their road games in SEC play. Much like UConn, their opponents this coming Saturday, the #4 seeds hit a rich vein of form at the right time. Now we’ll see if Coach Cal can make sure the third time is the charm and go all the way to the national title.
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