Unlikely NCAA Final Four as smoke clears

Mar 28 2011 - 4:02pm

And then there were none.

Not a single No. 1 seed survived the weekend, with Ohio State on Saturday and Kansas on Sunday joining Duke and Pittsburgh as chalk outlines on the hardcourt.

The Final Four, as two entrants out of 5.9 million entrants in ESPN's contest correctly guessed, is No. 4-seed Kentucky, No. 3 Connecticut, No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth and No. 8 Butler.

When this assault on the senses -- sight, hearing and common -- began two weeks ago, we said the field was so open that 16 teams could win the NCAA Tournament. We didn't include three of this Final Four (everybody but Kentucky), so make it 19.

Then you have to add Florida, Florida State and Princeton, who all lost by a bucket to one of the Final Four, so now it's 22.

Twenty-two teams out of 68 with a chance to have that one shining moment -- no wonder it's the greatest sports event going. And one of those teams, VCU, might not have been here if the field hadn't been expanded from 65 to 68 teams this year.

Coaching, hot shooting and confidence have created a monster. The Rams made 12 three-pointers for the third time in four games, after not accomplishing that feat the entire season. They are 53-for-121 (44 percent) from deep in the Tournament, and if they can keep that pace, then the Rams -- the fourth-place finisher in the Colonial Athletic Association -- will be hoisting a trophy in a week.

Will they be the best team? No. The teams that have won in March were not the most talented. They either had someone named Kemba or were the hottest from outside 20 feet, 9 inches. (If you played the tourney all over again, a different four teams would be headed to Houston.)

Kentucky needed to make 12 of 22 three-point tries to beat a foul-plagued North Carolina team Sunday. Butler jacked up 33 threes Saturday, making nine. Florida watched point guard Erving Walker lose his mind and go for 1-for-7.

You would have needed a Taser to stop Walker from jacking up a three with the game tied at the end of regulation. And it's a common sight these two weeks: bigger, physical teams getting caught up in the moment and letting the ball fly from way out.

VCU coach Shaka Smart hypnotized Kansas counterpart Bill Self, who watched his much, much, much taller Jayhawks go 2-for-21 from three-point range. Wheee!

"That game was all about style of play," Smart said. "We got the style going the way that we wanted in the first half. And if you watch closely, their players were tugging on their shorts for much of the game. When you don't have your legs, it's hard to make outside shots."

Flinging bricks will wear you out.

I'm not complaining about all the threes. Moving the arc back a foot might make the games a little more talent-predictable, but it wouldn't be as fun. "March Saneness" doesn't have quite the same appeal as "March Madness."

KENTUCKY

29-8, East No. 4 seed

UCONN

30-9, West No. 3 seed

VCU

28-11, Southwest No. 11 seed

BUTLER

27-9, Southeast No. 8 seed

Talking points

-- VCU was the one of the last four teams to get into the Tournament, and now it's one of the last four teams in the Tournament.

-- The four teams in the Final Four have a combined seeding of 26, breaking the record of 22 in 2000. It is the first time that no No. 1 or 2 seed made it.

-- Kansas coach Bill Self kept shaking his head at his players in disbelief. Time to look in the mirror, chief. His team came out tight, and his bigger, more talented team shot 21 threes, making two.

-- It looked as if North Carolina's Harrison Barnes was ready for a star-making turn -- but he made some bad decisions down the stretch. Imagine, a freshman actually playing like a freshman.

Quotable

"So with us and Butler matching up going to the semifinals, it's a game for -- I don't want to say the little guys -- but the medium-sized guys, and we're excited about it."

-- VCU coach Shaka Smart

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