From an original field of 68 teams in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, four teams — VCU, Butler, Connecticut, and Kentucky — are left, their hopes for a national title still alive. Both VCU and Butler, seeded eleventh and eighth, respectively, reached the Final Four by way of a string of upsets; Kentucky and Connecticut had close calls of their own, with the Wildcats upsetting Ohio State on their final possession and the Huskies edging Arizona by two points to reach the Final Four.
The national semifinals will be played Saturday, and the final will be on Monday. Who will be the last one standing? The Tech’s sports staff weigh in.
VCU vs. Butler. The VCU story continues: This is such a bizarre Final Four matchup that I don’t know where to start. VCU is a classic Cinderella story, as they had to beat USC just to qualify for the tournament — and look where they are now. Butler, on the other hand, has a low seeding (eighth) that misrepresents the team’s experience, which comes from making a run to the Finals and coming up short to Duke in last year’s tournament. So far, both teams have persevered and performed in the clutch when they needed to most. VCU shocked the country and busted many brackets by taking out Kansas last weekend, while Butler stunned one-seeded Pittsburgh before pulling out a nail-biter against a vicious Florida squad. Both VCU and Butler may not be the most talented or dynamic teams in the league, but they do know how to play as teams and win as teams. The excitement mounts as people yearn to see the energy and passion brought by VCU coach Shaka Smart and Butler coach Brad Stevens. This one promises to be a well-coached game on both sides. VCU’s freshness and vigor, combined with their unfamiliarity with a Final Four game, should serve them well and incite them to victory. VCU will add to their already extraordinary story and make the Finals.
Connecticut vs. Kentucky. Advantage UConn in an offensive thriller: In the other semifinal, Connecticut and Kentucky aren’t two teams that many people picked to reach the Final Four, but their making the Final Four isn’t completely unreasonable given that they both have size, talent, and well-established programs. Both teams have had their fair share of close games — UConn snuck past Arizona by two, and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight helped defeat division favorite Ohio State with a clutch shot just before the buzzer. The keys for this matchup? Connecticut power forward Alex Oriakhi should have no problem defending the post against DeMarcus Cousins and the Kentucky big men. Up front, Huskies shooting guard Jerome Dyson and his driving and scoring explosiveness will simply be too much for Eric Bledsoe and Kentucky’s front line to handle. Although Kentucky will put up a fight, it won’t be enough to defeat UConn and their hopes of making the national championship game.
VCU Completes the Journey! Both VCU and UConn will go into the finals with confidence, ferocity, and a critical mindset after winning their previous tournament games. But as long as VCU contains UConn’s Jerome Dyson and controls the paint, VCU should have no problem winning by a fair margin. This should be one to watch, especially since Connecticut’s talent and skill will be matched by VCU’s raw passion and willpower!
VCU vs. Butler. It is unfortunate that one of these teams will not advance to the final because both underdogs have achieved way more in this tournament than anyone ever expected. VCU has already taken down five teams — they had to win a play-in to even earn a spot in the tournament — including Obama’s favorite to win, Kansas, and powerhouses Purdue and Georgetown. Furthermore, their tight win over a hot Florida State team showed that they can win close games and overpower even the best defenses. While VCU players Jamie Skeen, Bradford Burgess, and Brandon Rozzell are the leading scorers for the Rams, it is Joey Rodriguez who will be the man to watch. Despite his small stature, his passing and vision is unparalleled, and he hands out assists like candy on Halloween. If he can continue to dish the ball to the lead scorers, VCU will have no problem advancing to the final. Butler, on the other hand, has not lost since Feb. 3 and continues to win close game after close game. They also have the advantage of playing in the final last year, so they can handle pressure. However, all of their wins this tournament have been far from decisive, and on multiple occasions they hinged on luck. If the last minute tip-ins continue to go in, and the players continue to be inexplicably fouled with less than a second remaining, then Butler may manage a repeat trip to the finals. However, VCU is the stronger team right now.
Kentucky vs. Connecticut. Despite an early scare against Princeton, the Kentucky Wildcats are demonstrating just how far they’ve come this season, winning their last ten games and taking out overall east No. 1 seed Ohio State and west No. 2 seed North Carolina. Connecticut, however, has an almost equally impressive nine-game winning streak and crushed Kentucky in the regular season. The two matchups will be, in large part, influenced by the performance of Kentucky freshman and leading scorer Brandon Knight versus that of Connecticut’s Kemba Walker. The last time the teams met, Connecticut shut down Knight, and they overcame Kentucky 84-67. However, that was back in November, and despite losing to North Carolina shortly afterwards, they came back to beat them last weekend. That being said, if Brandon Knight plays well, the Wildcats will have no problem getting revenge on Connecticut and advancing to the championship game for the 11th time in their school’s history.
Championship game. Unfortunately, the sentimental favorite here is probably not the better of the two teams. Assuming that VCU and Kentucky both advance to the final, Kentucky, on paper, is the more likely of the two teams to win. However, VCU has proven thus far that odds mean nothing, and if they continue to play the way they did against teams like Kansas, they should have no problem taking out Kentucky. One thing that VCU has on their side is that thus far, they have been blowing out teams, comfortably winning despite the odds against them (with the lone exception of the Florida State game). It is extremely difficult psychologically to win multiple close games in a row, so if VCU can comfortably beat Butler, I think they stand a good chance against Kentucky, who will have just overcome a brutal physical and mental game against Connecticut. In fact, the same could be said for VCU beating Connecticut. VCU will go all the way.
Butler vs. VCU. Of the 11 teams to make consecutive appearances in the Final Four over the last 25 years, seven of those teams won at least one national title in their string of appearances. Competing in a second straight Final Four isn’t like tossing a coin twice in a row. Butler’s experience, coming up just short last year in the title game against Duke, will help them defeat newcomer VCU in the semifinal.
Connecticut vs. Kentucky. UK knocked off overall No. 1 seed Ohio State, but they haven’t looked as convincing throughout the entire tournament, barely escaping Princeton in the first round. UConn will advance.
National Championship. Butler will defeat UConn in the title game, claiming the championship.