Final Four 2011: Embrace an Outlier Season, but Don't Read Too Much into It

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Final Four 2011: Embrace an Outlier Season, but Don't Read Too Much into It
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Over the next week, you're going to hear a lot of hyperbole and nonsense. Stuff like how VCU's run proves the NCAA should expand to 96 teams, how the tournament should reseed at the Final Four or how this isn't the best way to crown a champion.

But just remember, we've heard this all before.

The 2011 tourney has certainly been unique. Saturday's Final Four will feature the greatest number of combined seeds in the semifinals (26) and the greatest number of combined seeds in one semifinal game (19), but anomalies like this have happened before.

Virginia Commonwealth isn't the first 11 seed to reach the Final Four; it is the third. LSU turned the trick in 1986, and George Mason did it again 20 years later.

In fact, there are a few parallels you can draw between this year's tournament and the one in 2006. First of all, that was the only other year since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 that a No. 1 seed failed to reach the Final Four.

Secondly, VCU's run is nearly identical to the one made by GMU. Five years ago, the Patriots were also lambasted for making the field as an at-large out of the Colonial Conference before upsetting a No. 6, a No. 3 and a No. 1 seed en route to a Final Four berth.

This month, the Rams had to do a little extra work in beating USC in a First Four game, but they've followed a very similar path (even coming out of the top right bracket) to reach the national semifinals, where, if it wasn't for Butler, they'd be facing Florida—the very same team George Mason lost to in 2006. Spooky.

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And let's just get this straight one final time: VCU deserved to be in this tournament. Shaka Smart's kids deserved to be here on Selection Sunday (they beat UCLA, Old Dominion and George Mason this season and were 12-8 away from home), and if you still don't think they deserve to be here, you're just being stubborn.

But let's not take this as a cue to expand the field to 96 teams. Virginia Commonwealth probably deserved to make the field under its former 65-team format as the final at-large team. And USC, Clemson and UAB did very little to prove any of them belonged, so let's not rush off to include teams like Boston College, Missouri State and Northwestern. Barely anyone watched those play-in games and no one would watch an NIT-style preliminary round attached to the beginning of the Big Dance.

VCU's last two weeks may have been a unanimous choice for the most amazing run in the tournament's history if it wasn't for the fact that Butler is currently on an equally incredible journey at the exact same time.

The Bulldogs are the first mid-major team to make consecutive runs to the Final Four since UNLV accomplished the feat in 1990-91, and Brad Stevens' bunch will attempt to become the first school outside a power conference to cut the nets down since that Rebels team did it 21 years ago.

Butler's run is even more impressive this year because it came in as an eight seed following a disappointing season that included a loss to Youngstown State. But when you consider the fact that the Bulldogs came inches away from a national championship last April and brought back Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, along with 76 percent of their assists from that team, should it really be that shocking?

Nick Laham/Getty Images

So with no 1 or 2 seeds advancing to the Final Four for the first time since the field expanded in 1985, people are beginning to question whether this is the best way to determine a national champion.

Of course it is.

Since 1985, 16 of the 26 champions have been top seeds, including each of the past four years.  Four winners have been No. 2 seeds, UConn will look to become the fourth 3 seed to win it all and Kentucky aims to become the second 4 seed to claim the title (Arizona in '97).

No one would say those teams didn't deserve to be champs, so why criticize the format when occasionally there is an outlier?

There's even precedent for an 8 seed to not only reach the title game, but win it. Villanova turned the trick in, ironically, 1985.

Now, if VCU can win two more games (or even one more, really), we'll certainly be breaking new ground, but in this year of parity, why is it so wrong for these teams to get the right to play for the national championship?

The undefeated TCU football team certainly wishes it had a similar shot.

 

Follow me on Twitter at @ JordanHarrison.

Jordan Schwartz not only had the most accurate bracket projections in the country this year, but out of 89 bracketologists, he was the only one to correctly predict 67 of the 68 teams to make the field.

Jordan is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and authorhouse.com.

He can be reached at jordanschwartz2003@yahoo.com

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