All good things must come to an end, but most people would have liked to send this year’s NCAA tournament out in better style. In a tournament where not a single 1 or 2 seed made the Final Four, this seemed to set the stage for a Cinderella.
Virginia Commonwealth, a team that many argued shouldn’t have even made the tournament, made the Final Four for the first time in their school’s history and was the first double-digit seed to make it since George Mason in 2006. Point guard Joey Rodriguez and post man Jamie Skeen stole the show and made a name for their selves. Skeen averaged 17.5 points and almost seven rebounds in the tournament while Rodriguez averaged nine points and almost eight assists while leading their team to the Final Four. VCU had to knock off Kansas, the team many considered the top team in the tourny and my personal pick to win it, in order to make the trip to Houston.
The defending runner-ups Butler seemed to shock the world once again. The Bulldogs defeated Old Dominion in the first round after a Matt Howard buzzer-beater and never looked back. Butler went on to defeat the #1 seeded Pittsburgh, #4 seeded Wisconsin, and #2 seeded Florida in order to take down fellow Cinderella VCU in the Final Four. Senior Matt Howard and guard Shelvin Mack led the team as they seeked redemption from last season. Without Howard’s buzzer-beater against Old Dominion and his free throws with under a second left against Pittsburgh, Butler would not have made it even close to where they went. Howard averaged 14.8 points and seven rebounds while Mack averaged 20.3 points including a 30 point performance against Pittsburgh and 27 against Florida. The duo combined for 41 points against VCU as Butler returned to the Finals with a 70-62 win. Butler would be the lowest seeded team to make the Finals since Villanova won it back in 1985, but would not have the same result.
On the other side of the bracket, Kentucky had to pull of some buzzer-beaters of their own. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had a runner to beat Princeton in their opener as time expired and a jumper to beat top seeded Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen. Kentucky had only one senior on their roster and was considered too young to make it as far as they did. Freshmen Knight and Terrance Jones headed the young roster and proved that their youth can beat experienced teams. After Knight’s two-point performance against Princeton (the two biggest points of the game) he went on to average 19.5 points, 5.25 rebounds, and 4.25 assists in his Final Four run. Jones’ tournament consisted of 10.4 points and 8.4 boards per contest, but found their tournament come to an end in a 56-55 thriller against the eventual champs Connecticut.
Ironically, the year of the Cinderella ended with the highest-seeded team in the Final Four taking it home. #3 seed Connecticut finished their Big East regular season and began an undefeated 11-0 postseason run to win the Big East and NCAA title. Only one word was needed to describe the run: Kemba. Junior guard Kemba Walker averaged 26 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in the Big East tournament and went on to average 23.5 points, 6 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in the NCAA tournament. Jaw-dropping numbers to say the least. UConn began their tournament with 81-52 and 69-58 routs over Bucknell and Cincinnati respectively. Their only ‘upset’ of the tournament came in the Sweet Sixteen against the #2 seed San Diego State. The Huskies defeated them 74-67 and went on to beat Arizona, Kentucky, and Butler in a snoozer to capture the 2011 crown. Kemba Walker’s phenomenal play earned him the Final Four MVP honors and rightly so.
It seemed as if last year was the year of the Cinderella, but 2011 proved that anything can happen in March. Can’t wait till next year? Neither can I.
By Golden Stomind – Jabberhead, SJ Contributing Author