First of all, congratulations to the VCU Rams. They had an absolutely remarkable run to the final four. They convincingly beat superior teams during their run. Their season probably didn’t belong in the tournament, but that team sure did. It was fun. And I should say thanks because one of my professors pushed a test back from this Tuesday to Thursday because of the potential that VCU (my school) would play for the title on Monday night. I needed that.
The thought of a UConn and Butler title game two weeks ago was extremely unlikely. A month or two ago, it would have been downright crazy for anyone to even suggest the possibility. On March 5th, UConn was 21-9 and had just lost their fourth Big East game in 5 games to finish the season at 9-9 in conference. They were talented, but a .500 win percentage in any conference doesn’t inspire any confidence in any national title aspirations.
Walker's assist total may be more indicative of UConn's success than his point total
At the beginning of conference play, people were talking about how crazy it was that UConn was picked to finish tenth in the Big East after they won their first ten games of the year. They ended up tied for 9th. Then something clicked. The UConn freshman led by Jeremy Lamb began to grow up. Kemba Walker suddenly has an efficient supporting cast and it has improved his game as well. Walker missed over 60% of his shots during conference play and his team struggled through some awful performances as he shot a combined 34.5% from the field with 3.4 assists in their 9 losses. During the NCAA tournament, he has shot 43.2% from the field and doubled his assist total to 6.8 per game. He now trusts his teammates and the Huskies have become a complete team. They peaked at the right time.
Meanwhile, on February 3rd, Butler found themselves at 14-9 after losing to a Youngstown State team that went 2-16 in the Horizon League. It didn’t look like they were going to be dancing again this year and the loss of Gordon Hayward the year before was proving to be even difficult to adapt to than anticipated. I remember thinking at the beginning of the year that there was no way Butler has a top 25 team after they began ranked #18. I was shocked that they only lost to Duke by 12 in a championship game rematch in December. Hayward was Mr. Everything last year. Half the team would be mistaken for actual butlers rather than basketball players. Then they won 11 in a row to get into the tournament and have been the underdog in every game they have played since. There is something about this team that just won’t quit. They looked down and out in the second half against Florida in the second half but they fought back and won in overtime. I have been very impressed with their will and confidence. They too, peaked at the right time.
VCU took down teams from the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac 10, and Big East, but it couldn't beat the team from the Horizon League
Shouldn’t they be the Cinderellas of this tournament? What is more unlikely, a #11 seed from a 3 bid conference making the final four, or a #8 seed from a 1 bid conference making the championship game? Just because Butler has been here before doesn’t mean they aren’t Cinderellas. They still have a tiny budget and are from a small conference. The fact that they are here for a second year in a row is one of the most incredible accomplishments in the history of the NCAA tournament. VCU’s run may have stolen some of the limelight from Butler’s streak, but they deserve all the praise in the world. One thing we know, Butler will not be satisfied with another loss. After watching them scratch and claw through improbable victory after improbable victory, they can definitely win one more.