Thursday, November 23, 2017
Final Four Preview
By Michael Brown (Sentinel Sports Writer)
Published April 2, 2011

In the inevitable battle of David versus Goliath Monday night for the title, who’s who?

By Michael Brown,
Sentinel Sports Writer

With two traditional powers battling it out on one side of the bracket and two upstarts facing off on the other, the inevitable David Versus Goliath storyline will be talked about incessantly during Monday’s pre-game buildup to college basketball’s championship game.

But perhaps, who plays the role of David may be up for debate.

That’s because March Madness Final Four party crashers Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, although they lack the tradition and name recognition of UCONN and Kentucky, may be playing the best basketball in the tournament.

For instance, if VCU had “UNC” emblazoned across their jerseys, the Rams would be favored to win the whole thing.

They gained Final Four entry by beating No. 1 seed Kansas by 10; Purdue by 18; Georgetown by 18 and USC by 13. Coach Shaka Smart’s troops were only challenged in the Sweet Sixteen when they squeaked out a one-point overtime win against Florida State.

But despite the lopsided victories, VCU is well…VCU.

Unless they cut down the nets after next Monday night’s championship game in Houston, they’ll still be seen as a “Cinderella.”

Their opponent, the Butler Bulldogs, led by senior Matt Howard, seemingly won’t be denied.

Everyone’s surprised that the Bulldogs have reached the Final Four for the second consecutive year, but perhaps we shouldn’t be. Butler’s savvy upperclassmen have excelled in the tournament by not being easily rattled and making clutch plays when need be.

Howard scored the game-winning points against both Old Dominion and No. 1 seed Pittsburgh. He played a pivotal role in Butler’s 74-71 overtime win against Florida. Howard’s match up against VCU’s Jamie Skeen will probably determine the game’s winner.

Another match up to watch is Butler guard Shelvin Mack and VCU’s Ed Nixon, who have both had good tournament performances.

Kentucky hasn’t been as dominating as VCU and hasn’t played the nail-biting close games of Butler, but the Wildcats have probably traveled the hardest road to Houston.

The Wildcats survived the bumpy roadblock known as the North Carolina Tar Heels by defeating them in the East final, 76-69. Kentucky’s best tournament player, senior Josh Harrellson, manned up against UNC’s talented frontline.

Prior to defeating UNC, Kentucky knocked off No. 1 seed Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen and will end its 13-year Final Four drought in Coach John Calipari’s second season.

I predicted before the tournament that Kentucky’s mix of freshmen and upperclassmen would help them reach the Final Four and they proved me right. Not only has Harrellson been big, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds a game for the Big Dance, but DeAndre Liggins chipped-in with 12 points against the Tar Heels.

Liggins, one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders, has the ability to cause UCONN’s Kemba Walker fits. That won’t be an easy task, however.

Freshman Brandon Knight scored 22 points against UNC, and he’ll have to play the best game of his career if the Wildcats want to advance past the Huskies.

Reason being, simply put: Walker is a beast.

We usually don’t associate the word “beast” with barely six-foot point guards, but Walker’s the exception.

When San Diego State had UCONN on the ropes in the Sweet Sixteen, Walker counter punched with 36 points, helping the Huskies get past the Aztecs.

His running-mate in the backcourt, freshman Tyler Lamb, has emerged during the tournament. While Walker had 19 points during the 65-63 win against Arizona in the West final, Lamb was the difference maker scoring 20 points.

Based on their huge wins and oh-so-close miss at the buzzer last year against Duke in the title game, Butler is the Goliath of the weekend. Name recognition is the only thing they lack that UCONN and Kentucky have.

Kansas didn’t come through as my title pick, so I’ll go with the underdog Huskies to beat the Bulldogs in a closely contested game Monday night.

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Categories: Basketball

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