Raise your hand if you had Kentucky, Connecticut, VCU and Butler as your Final Four teams?
….still waiting. Even if you told me that your correctly picked the Final Four before the tournament started, I still wouldn’t believe you. That’s because of the 5.9 million brackets submitted on ESPN.com only two people correctly picked the Final Four and 1,093 correctly had three of the four final four finalists. Pretty much every one’s bracket was completely busted, especially after this past weekend’s games when Ohio St., Kansas and North Carolina, three popular picks to win it all, were eliminated in stunning fashion.
The lack of bracket success points to the fact that this year’s tournament may be the maddest one ever. Don’t believe me? This year’s final four set the record for the highest combined seed number with 26 (add up the seeds of each team Uconn 3, Kentucky 4, VCU 11 and Butler 8) the previous high occurred in 2000 when the combined seed was 22. What’s even more surprising is that this is the first year that there is not a no.1 or no.2 seed. This tournament is bound to get even wilder, especially if VCU or Butler ends up cutting down the nets, which at this point isn’t unlikely at all. And if that happens the big winners in this tournament is the NCAA selection committee.
In fact, the NCAA selection committee is already the biggest winner of the tournament. Before the tournament and season started, the committee expanded the field of entrants to 68, adding three more teams; one of those “extra” teams was VCU. VCU wasn’t even supposed to be in the tournament according the bracket experts at CBS and ESPN. On selection Sunday, TV analysts from each network ripped the committee for putting VCU into the tournament ahead of teams like Colorado and St. Mary’s. No one was attacking the committee more than Jay Bilas, who has been made to look stupid now after VCU’s final four run. I’m sure VCU is actually happy that Bilas ripped their team; it provided bulletin board material and extra motivation to already talented team that had nothing to lose going into the tournament. VCU’s ability to turn their critics into motivation is salute to a tremendous performance from their head coach Shaka Smart. Smart as well as Butler head coach Brad Stevens are the other huge winners in this tournament.
To show you how well Smart has done in the tournament, lets look at the teams VCU has beaten on the way to the Final Four- USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida St. and Kansas. That is an impressive list. Each team is from a power conference, Purdue was a trendy elite eight pick and Kansas was the favorite to win it all. Smart has made a lot of fans and opened up many attractive coaching opportunities with his coaching performance, and he is only 33. Don’t be surprised if he gets a big-time coaching gig sometime soon. Or he can choose to stay and do what Brad Stevens has done at Butler.
Stevens has quietly built a power program at Butler, similar to what Mark Few has accomplished at Gonzaga. Butler nearly won the national championship last year; they were only a Gordon Hayward shot away from knocking out Duke and yet they are back again in the final four. That’s an extremely tough accomplishment and for a young coach like Stevens, who is only 34, it’s an even greater accomplishment. Big props to the young coaches getting it done with small conference schools. Stevens is sure to have his name out there for big-school coaching jobs at well, but I don’t think he’s leaving Butler anytime soon. Why should he? He has already proved that he can build a championship level program at a small school, why leave that program for a more recognizable big-name school? Butler has to be considered a big-time program now with what Stevens has done, don’t be surprised if they start hauling in highly touted recruits.
Regardless of the coaching future of these two, their teams’ final four match up is sure to be a gritty, intense battle. Whoever wins that game is who I will be rooting for to win it all, the Cinderella story of the tournament wouldn’t be perfect unless one of those teams is cutting down the net when its all said and done.
Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy
Chief Copy-editor: Natalie Cappetta
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