Tonight’s national championship basketball game is almost a repeat from last year. It’s David vs. Goliath, Round Two! Join us tonight as Cinderella challenges for the national title against a confirmed NCAA powerhouse with a strong tournament track record.
This year’s David had a lot of things going against it when Mr. Calendar turned March. Their regular season performance was good, but considering their reputation, also underwhelming. There was even the off chance they would miss the tournament. Goliath, on the other hand, didn’t get it done completely during the season either, but with their background, they weren’t really concerned about whether they’d be dancing. Loaded with tournament-grizzled studs, including their superstar one-name guard, they were pretty much The Team That No One Wants To Face, despite the fact that they weren’t going to be anything like a one- or two-seed.
The blueblood in this scenario? That would be last year’s national #2, Shelvin Mack and the Butler Bulldogs. Oh sure, they’re new to all this, but name another squad that’s been to the Final Four, much less the Final Two, in the last two seasons.
Seriously, where did you think this was going? In this tournament? Hell, ESPN got Nostradamus to reach out from the beyond, and he had Kansas and Ohio State in the final. UConn and Butler? Two and through. Well, maybe the Sweet 16 for UConn, but Pitt was a sure bet to plow Butler in the second, er, third round. Or not.
Thus leaving a fascinating little matchup tonight. (Oh, and if you think this is chaos, you shoulda seen what happened to the women’s tournament last night.)
Butler was last year’s Cinderella, handing that role off to VCU this year. Of course, anybody who didn’t see last year’s tournament run coming had missed the fact that the coaches had them in their preseason top 10 before they fell all the way to #12 heading into the tournament. With last year’s leader, Gordon Hayward, now coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz, they started this year all the way down at #18 and went into March an unranked eight-seed.
Of course, they also went into Madness with a ton of veteran leadership at guard in Mr. Mack and his running mate, Ronald Nored, a bull moose in the middle in senior Matt Howard, and a ton of bench depth that had been there and done that, falling a Hayward buzzer beater short of grabbing the brass ring last year.
UConn, which missed the tournament last year entirely, has the breakout star of the tournament, Kemba. Mr. Walker has gone straight out da Bronx and into America’s hearts in the time it took to win five straight games in the Big East tournament and five (so far) in this one. And yes, two years ago, he was a lightly-played freshman when Connecticut went to the Final Four.
His partners in crime, however, have most definitely not been there or done that – five of the other six Huskies who play regularly are freshmen or sophomores. (Of course, we figured the key freshman, Jeremy Lamb, was in over his head ten days ago. Boy, were we ever wrong.)
Last year, everybody who was anybody was rooting for Butler to win a national championship for little guys everywhere. Heading into Saturday’s Final Four games, America hopped on the VCU bandwagon. Presently, we suspect a show runner somewhere is preparing to pitch a new TV series called Everybody Loves Kemba.
Us? We still love the thought of Butler breaking through. By this point, everyone watching March Madness should have figured out that making predictions is just plain foolish. Because we’re fools, we’re predicting.
At this point, experience wins. One team has been here before; the other wasn’t even dancing last year. Tonight, Butler finally breaks through and grabs that brass ring.
Just don’t call the Bulldogs underdogs. After all, they’re the Dogs with the recent NCAA pedigree.