Final Four field full of surprises

Final Four field full of surprises

It’s the most unexpected Final Four since the bracket became seeded.

Since 1979, there had been only two men’s basketball national semifinals without a No. 1 seed. There hadn’t been one without at least a No. 2 seed.

Now, there is.

Virginia Commonwealth and Kentucky completed the field with victories over better seeded teams on Sunday.

The 11th-seeded Rams took out top-seeded Kansas 71-61 in winning the Southwest Region in San Antonio.

Two weeks ago VCU started its tournament run as one of four teams known as the First Four, the final at-large selections that played in essentially an opening round game in Dayton, Ohio.

Fourth-seeded Kentucky beat second-seeded North Carolina 76-69 in winning the East in Newark, N.J.

Add them to eighth-seeded Butler and No. 3 seed Connecticut, which won regional finals on Saturday, and the NCAA has the highest collective seeding ever for a Final Four.

If you want to talk parity in college basketball, go ahead. Ohio State, Kansas, Duke and Pittsburgh—the No. 1 seeds—won’t argue.

Neither will No. 2 seeds Notre Dame, Florida, North Carolina and San Diego State.

Saturday’s doubleheader at Reliant Stadium in Houston is set. VCU meets Butler at 6:09 p.m. EDT, followed by Connecticut-Kentucky.

“We’re playing Butler, who’s going to be the underdog?” VCU coach Shaka Smart asked.

Based on the seeding, all four will be.

It’s also the first time since 1979 that two teams from nonpower conferences are in the Final Four.

VCU plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, which sends its first team to the Final Four since George Mason in 2006.

Butler completes in the Horizon League and seeks to win one more game than it did a year ago when it lost in the title game to Duke.

“What it says about college basketball is any very good team from any league can go to the Final Four,” Smart said. “And you don’t have to be one of the BCS conference teams.

“Over the last 10 or 15 years the playing field has evened out a little bit. So, with us playing Butler, I don’t want to say the little guys, but the medium-sized guys, and we’re excited about it.”

But the other two are heavyweights.

Kentucky returns to the Final Four for the first time since winning the 1998 national championship. Also back is coach John Calipari, who takes his third team to a Final Four after leading Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008.

If the Final Four doesn’t have a top-rated team, it will have perhaps the nation’s most dynamic player. Connecticut guard Kemba Walker has personally carried his team to remarkable heights after helping the Huskies win five games in five days in the Big East Tournament.

Walker now has the program in its first Final Four since 2009, and Huskies coach Jim Calhoun bids for his third national championship—unexpectedly as the best seed remaining on the final weekend.

(c) 2011, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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Final Four field full of surprises