BRACKET BLOG: Final Four (NCAA Open Thread)

It's ... so beautiful. A Reliant Stadium, completely free of Jayhawk fans.

Once again, this BRACKET BLOG also will serve as an open discussion thread for today's Final Four games. Game previews follow after the jump.

Previous Entries:

The Teams

 

The Site

  • Houston, Texas

 

The Final Four

No. 3 Connecticut (30-9) vs. No. 4 Kentucky (29-8)
April 2 | 7:49 p.m. CST | Houston | CBS
Jim Nantz | Clark Kellogg | Steve Kerr

How They Got Here:
No. 3 UConn 65, No. 5 Arizona 63
No. 4 Kentucky 76, No. 2 UNC 69

One month ago, it didn't appear as if either of these teams would be capable of winning a single NCAA Tournament game — much less reaching the Final Four.

Both teams, as teams so dependent on freshmen tend to do, suffered mid-season swoons in conference play, especially in road games. Kentucky, in particular, had an almost Missouri-like road record.

But UConn's freshman stepped up big in the Big East Tournament and beyond, and Jim Calhoun has performed a masterful coaching job in selecting the proper go-to freshman for the proper game. That's allowed superstar Kemba Walker to flourish now that he longer bears the entire weight of the program upon his back.

Meanwhile, Kentucky's resurgence was twofold. Even as freshman studs Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb began to take a step back as prominent scorers, fellow freshman Brandon Knight and an unheralded bench-warmer from last season's Elite Eight team, Josh Harrellson, stepped up to fill the void.

Harrellson has been the revelation of this tourney, as far as I'm concerned. He's playing like a man possessed, way beyond his talent level. He's this year's Brian Zoubek and he's making John Calipari look like an even better coach than he is.

Both teams have momentum and talent. UConn has the superstar and the more recent Final Four experience, but Kentucky is the favorite and the more celebrated program all-time. One thing's for sure: Whichever team wins will become a national villain, except in its home state, for Monday night's showdown with Cinderella.

GAMER: Kentucky 68, UConn 66
Pomeroy: Kentucky 70, UConn 68
Sagarin: Kentucky 68, UConn 67

 

No. 8 Butler (27-9) vs. No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth (28-11)
April 2 | 5:09 p.m. CST | Houston | CBS
Jim Nantz | Clark Kellogg | Steve Kerr

How They Got Here:
No. 8 Butler 74, No. 2 Florida 71 (OT)
No. 11 VCU 71, No. 1 Kansas 61

Speaking of the Cinderella semifinal, what an unusual position Butler finds itself in. Last year's darling, for the first time since it began that storied run, is the favorite today.

A new siren has stolen America's heart this season: The VCU Rams.

The suddenly en fuego team from one of the nation's two commonwealths (Kentucky is the other) has downed power conference team after power conference team with a 1-2 punch of 3-point shooting and an almost maniacal, ever-shifting press/match-up zone defense.

But how will the Rams fare now that they're everyone's favorite BracketBuster? And how will they summon the same enthusiasm when they face a bigger, more experienced version of themselves?

Make no mistake: Butler won't be distracted by the bright lights of Houston. The Bulldogs got all of this out of their system last year, and they're here solely for a business trip.

Brad Stevens has had almost a week to game-plan for this one, which I think is a bad sign for VCU. That plan likely will involve refusing to run at the Rams' pace, something Bill Self couldn't seem to figure out was an unwise idea.

If Butler is successful at slowing down the game until it feels like it's being played in mud, I think it will win.

GAMER: Butler 69, VCU 65
Pomeroy: Butler 69, VCU 68
Sagarin: Butler 67, VCU 66

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