Hollywood writers couldn’t script a better ending to the college basketball season. The 2011 Final Four in Houston guarantees there will be another David versus Goliath match-up in the championship game.
The first semi-final game on Saturday pits two mid-majors that few of the so-called experts thought would get this far.
In the night cap, two of college basketball’s most elite programs square-off, with a combined total of 9 NCAA championships between them.
Veteran coaches Jim Calhoun of UConn and Kentucky’s John Calipari challenge each other in one game.
And young guns, Brad Stevens of Butler and Shaka Smart of VCU, both who are under 35, lead their teams in the other.
The contrasts between the two games and two sets of coaches could not be more stark. Even the back-stories are intriguing.
Butler makes a repeat trip to the Final Four against all odds, losing their best player from last year to the NBA and struggling through a tough stretch this season, at one point losing three straight Horizon League games. They now have a 13 game winning streak.
The newest mid-major darling, VCU, gets to the Final Four by overcoming even greater odds than Butler, starting their NCAA tournament run by winning the often dismissed play-in game in Dayton. Analysts like ESPN’s Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale went out of their way to declare that VCU had no business being selected to the tournament at all. Us against them has never had more meaning than it does now for Virginia Commonwealth University.
Connecticut, virtually given up for dead in the Big East three weeks ago, swept their conference tournament at Madison Square Garden by winning five games in five days, led by the nation’s most dynamic player in Kimba Walker. One great player often makes all the difference.
And Kentucky makes it to Houston with essentially a whole new set of players. All of Kentucky’s key players from the 2010 powerhouse team were drafted into the NBA, including the overall number one pick, John Wall.
But if this Final Four is based on perceptions, and pre-conceived notions, then the big boys will win – in this case either UConn or Kentucky, Don’t they always win? Historically, yes, but this is 2011 and things are markedly different now in the world of college basketball. There are great players and good teams all over the country, even if some of the experts will never admit that. Parity has arrived. The best case for this is the fact that none of the number one seeds made it to the Final Four.
Hopefully we are witnessing a changing of the guard in college basketball, opening up the NCAA tournament to a wider range of schools. This years tournament proves that all any team really needs is a chance.
Maybe one day college football and its much too exclusive BCS will understand just how sweet and fair opportunity is.