This year, in the world of sports, March definitely lived up to its reputation of delivering madness.
March was so mad that even Major League Baseball decided to join in on the fun. Six games were played on MLB Opening Day and all six of them were decided by three runs or less.
Fans were spoiled with a walk off three-run home run courtesy of Ramon Hernandez of the Reds. In the same game, Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez of the Brewers, went back-to-back to start off the game, the first time that feat has been accomplished since 1969.
Also, the first extra-innings game of the season was played between the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Diego Padres.
The real madness of Opening Day was Albert Pujols. Pujols went 0 for 5, and grounded into three double plays. Talk about hurting your negotiating leverage.
Now that the hype of MLB Opening Day 2011 is dwindling down, it’s time for us to turn our attention back to the real March Madness. It’s time for us to put baseball on the back burner for just a little while and look towards the Final Four.
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is famous for producing a unique Final Four every year. This year is no exception.
Out of 5.9 million brackets submitted to ESPN Tournament Challenge, only two people correctly picked the Final Four. This is largely due to the fact that this is the first Final Four without a #1 or #2 seed since seeding began in 1979.
On one side of the Final Four, you have your typical suspects. Kentucky and Connecticut are no strangers to the Final Four and NCAA Tournament Championship game.
On the other side of the Final Four, you have TWO Cinderellas in Butler and Virginia Commonwealth University. Unfortunately for one of them, the clock will strike midnight tonight.
The road traveled by each of this year’s Final Four teams has been a treat for fans across the country.
As fans, we want to see the emotion of the two teams as the final buzzer sounds. We want the moments that bring us out of our seats and into the air. We live for the games that make all of our problems melt away, even if it’s only for a few minutes. We desperately want to connect with the players and teams.
In case you missed it, here are some key moments from each team’s journey to the Final Four:
East Region: Kentucky
Brandon Knight proves that it’s not how you start, but rather how you finish. With under ten seconds left in each game, Knight hit the game-winning shots against Princeton and Ohio State to advance Kentucky on to the next round.
West Region: Connecticut
Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb shows the country he has more poise than your typical freshman by helping Connecticut pull away from San Diego State. With under two minutes to go, Lamb scored seven of his team’s last nine points to put Connecticut in the Elite 8.
Southwest Region: Virginia Commonwealth
For a team that many people thought shouldn’t even be in the tournament, VCU has definitely been playing with a chip on their shoulder. VCU has cruised through the tournament dismantling every team by double digits except one. In their Sweet Sixteen match-up against Florida State, the Rams showed they can execute under pressure and win close games.
Not only has the team developed a chip on their shoulder, but so have their fans. Here’s a couple examples:
Southeast Region: Butler
Talk about a team living on the edge. Butler seems to thrive in close-game situations and executes the best when it matters most. Matt Howard has proved to have ice water in his veins by knocking off Old Dominion and Pittsburgh with less than one second on the clock. If you haven’t seen the celebration after the Pittsburgh victory, click here. Now tell me you wouldn’t want to play for a coach like Brad Stevens.
Now that we’ve seen highlights of each team’s journey to the Final Four, let’s look ahead to tonight’s match-ups.
VCU vs Butler 6:09PM
This isn’t your classic Final Four showdown. VCU and Butler, teams that were considered an afterthought at the start of the tournament, are now 40 minutes away from the National Championship game.
Both teams have had impressive runs knocking off opponents from various conferences. It’s unfortunate that they are paired together in the semi-final match-up. Given the chance, would these two teams be able to slay another giant and meet in the National Championship game? We will never know.
The Cinderella team who gets to wear the glass slipper after tonight will be Butler.
VCU has had an incredible run to the Final Four, but Butler will be too much for them to handle. The Rams have been able to break down defenses with their drive and kick offense, along with forcing turnovers leading to easy transition buckets. Butler will be able to slow down the pace of the game and force VCU to play half-court defense. The experience and talent of Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard lead the Bulldogs through to the National Championship game.
Kentucky vs Connecticut 8:49PM
Two of the most storied programs in Division I basketball meet for a chance to build on their legacy. Both teams have had their ups and downs this year, but seem to be peaking at the right time.
Kentucky, who struggled on the road earlier in the year, has been playing to their full potential when it matters most. Knocking off #1 seed Ohio State and #2 seed North Carolina was no easy task, but will the Wildcats be ready for Kemba Walker and the UConn Huskies?
Connecticut is on one of the most impressive runs in history. After winning five games in five days in the Big East Tournament, the Huskies have continued to roll into the Final Four. Kemba Walker has continued his dominant play while trusting his teammates to help him carry the load. This has resulted in the Huskies becoming a more balanced team and overall, more dangerous.
The last time these two teams met, UConn ran Kentucky out of the gym in the Maui Invitational Final. Kemba Walker was too much for the young Wildcats to contain. This time, the result will be different. Both teams have grown considerably since their early meeting, but the Wildcats seem to have found their stride. Josh Harrellson has emerged as a leader and will play a key role in the Wildcats‘ victory as they move on to the National Championship game.
Find a TV, sit down on the couch and “getcha popcorn ready”, it’s going to be a great night for college basketball!