HOUSTON — Connecticut was supposed to be too young, Kentucky too immature, Butler too old news and Virginia Commonwealth too far off the radar.
This is some kinda Final Four, huh?
After two weeks of games even the most astute prognosticators couldn’t have predicted, we’re finally at a Final Four unlike any other.
After all those brackets around the country hit the shredder, Kentucky and Connecticut will play in the blue blood bracket, while Butler and VCU face off in the up-and-comers division. Winners get a chance at the really big stage at really big Reliant Stadium.
Whatever happens, it’s sure to go down as one of the more memorable NCAA tournaments in history. Heck, it already has been.
So, to get you geared up, we’ve pulled together a little something that’s part history lesson, part rundown of this year’s teams and, hopefully, an entertaining look at this are-these-really-the-teams foursome.
In honor of underdogs Butler and VCU getting to the Final Four, we thought it’d be interesting to look back at some of the all-time upset teams in NCAA tournament history:
• North Carolina State, 1983. Lorenzo Charles dunking, Jim Valvano running, ‘Pack beats Phi Slamma Jamma. Doesn’t get much better than that.
• Indiana State, 1979. So what if Magic and Michigan State took down the Sycamores? What Larry Bird and his batch of underlings did was incredible stuff.
• George Mason, 2006. The trendsetter for the current mid-major runs. The Patriots took down big boys Michigan State, North Carolina and No. 1 overall seed UConn to get to the Final Four.
• Butler, 2010. The Bulldogs set their own standard just last year, coming within a nearly-banked-in halfcourt shot by Gordon Hayward of becoming the ultimate Cinderella against Duke.
• Villanova, 1985. First year of the 64-team field and the Wildcats made it a memorable one, becoming the highest seed to win a national championship as a No. 8.
• Louisiana State, 1986. First No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four.
33-5-11 – Age in years, months and days of Butler’s Brad Stevens, making him the second-youngest coach to reach the Final Four since 1972 (Bob Knight, 32-4-29).
3 – Number of No. 11 seeds to reach the Final Four: LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006, VCU this year.
5 – NCAA tournament games won by VCU, most ever to reach the Final Four.
14 – Final Four appearances by Kentucky, eight more than the other three teams combined.
19 – Games decided by three points or fewer in this year’s NCAA tournament, tied for second behind the 24 in 1990 for most since the field expanded to 64 teams.
26 – Combined seeds of Connecticut (three), Kentucky (four), Butler (eight) and VCU (11), highest in Final Four history. The previous high was 22 in 2000.
40 – Games played by VCU and Connecticut (once they play Saturday), matching the modern-day (since 1948) record, set seven previous times.
UConn’s Kemba Walker has put on a virtuoso performance, not just in the NCAA tournament, but also in the Big East tournament. He may be a slender 6-foot-1, but he has carried the Huskies through nine consecutive elimination games.
In honor of his play, here are a few other impressive one-man shows through the years:
• Stephen Curry, Davidson, 2008. The king of mid-major mayhem.
• Danny Manning, Kansas, 1988. The Jayhawks were known as Danny and the Miracles, but they might be considered The Untouchables when it comes to one leading the many in NCAA tournament history.
• Larry Bird, Indiana State, 1979. Larry Legend could have led Moe and Curly to the title game the way he was playing.
• Bill Bradley, Princeton, 1965. Led the unheralded Tigers to the Final Four, set an NCAA tournament record with 58 points against Wichita State in the third-place game.
• Bill Walton, UCLA, 1973. Big Red had some help but was as dominating as perhaps anyone in NCAA tournament history, capping it with 44 points in the title game.
• Jerry West, West Virginia, 1959. He set an NCAA tournament record while averaging 32 points and took the no-name Mountaineers into the title game against California.
• Lew Alcindor, UCLA, 1967. The man who would later become Kareem helped the Bruins set a tournament record for average margin of victory on their way to 10 consecutive Final Four wins.
• Bill Russell, San Francisco, 1956. Twenty-six points, 27 rebounds in the title game alone.
• Austin Carr, Notre Dame. 1970. Just three games, but went for 61, 52 and 45. Nice.
Did You Know?
• Butler is the first Division I school from Indiana to reach consecutive Final Fours. Five-time national champion Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame had never done it.
• Kentucky coach John Calipari joins Rick Pitino as the only coaches to lead three different schools to the Final Four. Calipari also took Massachusetts and Memphis, while Pitino did it with Providence, Kentucky and Louisville.
• The Horizon League (Butler 2010-11) joins the Big West (UNLV 1990-91), Missouri Valley (Cincinnati 1961-62) and West Coast (San Francisco 1955-56) conferences as the only non-BCS conferences to send a member to consecutive Final Fours.
• All four of UConn’s Final Four appearances (1999, 2004, 2009, 2011) have gone through the NCAA tournament’s West regional.
• Butler is one of seven teams to reach the Final Four a year after losing in the national title game, joining Ohio St. (1962), North Carolina (1969), North Carolina (1982), Houston (1984), Duke (1991), Michigan (1993).
• UConn’s men’s and women’s teams have reached the Final Four in the same season for the third time. Only six other schools have done it, none more than once.
• This year’s tournament marks the first time since 1983 that the Final Four teams have winning streaks of at least five games. This year’s schools have streaks of 13 (Butler), nine (Connecticut), nine (Kentucky) and five (VCU). In 1983, Houston had won 25 consecutive, Louisville 16, North Carolina State eight and Georgia seven.