Down to Final Four
Unlikely team in last game
Kentucky as well
Butler versus VCU
The game between the improbables. If Butler’s Final Four run last year was unexpected, then this year’s run is more of a shock. Before the beginning of last year’s tournament, Butler was ranked 28th in The Power Rank, 10.78 points better than the average Division I team. This year, they started the tournament as 41st with a 8.61 rating. But the Bulldogs continue to show their physical and mental toughness on the floor, gutting out close win after close win. Maybe it’s those 6:30am practices. In crunch time, it seems like they would rather be up 1 and on defense than down 1 with the ball. The Bulldogs know they can get that stop to win the game.
If Butler’s shocking run is like your grandma’s winning the family March Madness pool, then VCU’s surge through the tournament is like her winning the 5.9 million strong ESPN pool. The Rams started the tourney 67th in The Power Rank, 6.44 points better than the average Division I team. Our analysis supported the Virgina Tech and Colorado fans that didn’t think VCU belonged in this tournament. As the tournament started, winning that first game against USC might have been luck, an aberration in an otherwise mediocre season. The second win over Georgetown as well. But it’s unlikely to get lucky in five straight games. Anyone who has seen this team play believes they have the ability to win this tournament.
The Power Rank has Butler by 0.5, a tight game. But did you ever think that we’d get to the Final Four and know that either Butler or VCU would be playing in the title game?
Kentucky versus Connecticut
John Calipari gets a lot of criticism for embracing the one and done player, the superstar who plays his obligatory year in college so that he can turn 19 and enter the NBA draft. So when the freshman core of Kentucky left for the draft last year, most people did not think year’s teams would be as good. And while their 8 losses seems to confirm this, The Power Rank actually gives this year’s team a higher rating (15.72) than last year’s team (15.34). In their Sweet Sixteen game against top ranked Ohio State, Kentucky’s defense was unbelievable down the stretch, contesting every Buckeye shot on their way to the upset. In the second half against North Carolina, their defense slacked off when Kentucky’s hot three point shooting kept them in the lead. In fact, they shoot 40% from behind the arc, a big reason for the strength of this year’s team. When North Carolina made a late run late, the young Wildcats started playing defense again and closed out the game. Kentucky is almost unbeatable if they play the kind of defense they did against Ohio State.
Many people, including yours truly, didn’t think Connecticut would make it far in the tournament. They played 5 games in 5 straight nights to win the Big East tournament, a brutal stretch that would leave no energy for the tournament. On the B.S. Report, Chad Millman said that Alan Boston, a man who makes his living betting on college basketball, was certain that Bucknell would beat them in the first round. So much for the fatigue theory of predicting games. Maybe fatigue doesn’t matter when you’re having fun. Three hours of pickup basketball seems to fly by when your team clicks and keeps on winning. In Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run, he tells the story of a tribe of Mexican super distance runners that take a less stressful approach to life. At mile 75 of a 100 mile race, they would be laughing and joking as they set out to catch the leader. They easily caught her and won the race. These Huskies must really enjoy the game and playing with each other.
It might be easy to pick Connecticut in this game based on their 17 point thrashing of Kentucky back in November at the Maui Invitational. But it’s important to also look at other common opponents. Connecticut didn’t get a single regular season win against Notre Dame, Louisville and West Virginia while Kentucky handily beat all three this year. The Power Rank has Kentucky by 2.7. Vegas seems to agree, as they have the Wildcats as a two point favorite.