By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Houston — It’s the most unlikely Final Four since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985. We have a No. 3 seed that finished in a three-way tie for ninth place in its own league (UConn), a No. 4 seed that went 2–6 on the road in its conference (Kentucky), a No. 8 seed that at one point this season lost consecutive games to Milwaukee, Valparaiso and Youngstown State (Butler), and, finally, a No. 11 seed that lost its final four conference games of the regular season, three of which were at home (VCU).
So who’s going to advance to the National Championships game on Monday night? Who knows. At this point, all we can do if offer an educated guess. Here’s mine:
Game 1 — Butler over VCU
My first thought was to pick Butler. The Bulldogs are a seasoned group that has proven itself in the NCAA Tournament over the past two seasons. They advanced to this point by beating four very good teams — Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Florida. Those were my thoughts earlier in the week. Then, I switched over to the VCU camp. The Rams, after all, didn’t just beat some good teams to get to the Final Four — they beat them thoroughly. Any team that is good enough to beat Georgetown and Purdue by 18 points and Kansas by 10 is surely good enough to beat Butler. Right? The answer, of course, is yes, but only if this team continues to play at the same extraordinarily high level. Only if this team continues to bury the 3-point shot at such a high rate and continues to rebound the ball so effectively and continues to play defense with such tenacity. The guess here is that VCU will be unable to maintain the same level in all three phases. It’s been a magical ride for the Rams, but it will end Saturday night. I’m back with the Butler Bulldogs.
Game 2 — Kentucky over UConn
At some point late in the season, Kentucky developed into a complete basketball team. Sure, John Calipari would prefer to have more depth and another low-post scorer would be welcomed, but this team that we all thought was flawed earlier in the season looks pretty darn good now. With Josh Harrellson producing around the basket (14.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg in the NCAA Tournament) and veteran wing players DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller playing at a high level to complement the talented freshmen, there’s not a lot this team isn’t doing well. Connecticut, however, will have the best player on the floor in junior guard Kemba Walker. The Huskies will need big a night from Walker, but he must be efficient as well. Kentucky will gladly allow Walker to score 30 points if he needs 25 shots to get his points. UConn must get production from its role players, and big man Alex Oriakhi must provide some scoring around the basket. In four NCAA games, he has scored a total of 25 points. That won’t get it done Saturday night. This figures to be a thrilling game played at a high level. Take the team with the better roster over the team with the best player.