Monday, March 28, 2011

Misfits, misdeeds and outright shock make way to Final Four

Welcome to the Final Four, Mr. Smart. I see we have your reservation. I'll just need to see a form of identification.
And you -- name's Brad is it? -- come back when you're old enough to join the circus. What is it about these Indiana kids wanting to get out and see the world at such a young age?
Somebody get a wheelchair for that 68-year-old in the lobby. Considering he's not giving a dime back, the poor man can't carry an entire state's hopes and his salary at the same time.
At least the Final Four is classed up by First Fan Ashley Judd, here in both skinny jeans and in love with her Cats. Her only entourage this week, a horde of Kentucky fans who have been on a starvation diet of sorts. It's been 13 years since the Wildcats have been this far.
Houston, we have a problem. The NCAA's biggest money every year has become, in 2011, the biggest conundrum in years. No No. 1s, no No. 2s, only Virginia Commonwealth shooting a lot of 3s. Look at the opposing sides of the bracket. One is Wrestlemania. The other is Revenge of the Nerds. Dichotomy Duos comes to mind, or The Big (Disparity) Dance. John Calipari could buy the VCU and Butler programs and still have some cash left over for a Bentley. We know, we know, there were no great teams this season, only good ones. But did the Final Four bracket have to end up looking like a middle-school mixer? Girls on one side of the gym, boys on the other. Hormones raging. Sooner or later, somebody's going to dance.
Call it King Tuts vs. a pair of mutts.

Luster vs. Bracketbuster.
Class vs. Class struggle.
Velvet rope vs. Back door.
Hotness vs. Hoosiers.
Armani vs. Dockers.
Infractions committee vs. Impossible Dream.
You can't overlook the sketchy factor. The association proudly says it makes more than 85 percent of its budget from the tournament. That's a reflection of our interest. It's also reflection of the current state of college athletics. Half the Final Four is over-the-top amazing, the other half has an under-the-table feel to it.
Calhoun has been suspended for three games next season by the NCAA for recruiting violations at Connecticut. Bruce Pearl isn't here but he as an equally qualified stand-in for NCAA enforcement purposes, Coach Cal. Unofficially, only Calhoun (four) has more Final Four appearances than Butler's Brad Stevens (two) in this group. That's because officially the NCAA doesn't count Calipari's trips with UMass and Memphis. Google "vacated" "banners taken down" "records expunged". You'll find Cal in there somewhere, if not actually in the NCAA reports, which Kentucky's coach quickly will point out.
Stevens -- who actually chose coaching over a career as The Human Torso -- has not-so-suddenly become the sport's smartest man in the room. Sorry, Houston, for that reference. Stevens is the baby-faced tactician who suddenly seems overqualified for any opening that might occur at Indiana's state school in Bloomington. If he isn't the smartest coach in the country, we've still got the Smartest Shaka.
VCU's coach doesn't wear a sports jacket, shaves his head and drives opponents -- or at least Jay Bilas -- crazy. Actually, shaving might be the only thing close about Smart. His Rams have gotten to Houston by beating teams from five major conferences by an average of 12 points. How odd is this Final Four? The combined ages of Smart and Stevens don't equal Calhoun's (68). If the Young Guns don't win it all, the circus really is an option. After shocking the world, they might as well see the world.
This tournament broke hearts -- see everyone's bracket -- and inspired the BCS. That cursed group has to be feeling good today. At least the BCS gets the top two teams playing for the championship. Maybe not the two teams you want, but close. Go ahead, stage your 16-team football playoff. VCU and Butler getting to the Final Four roughly translates -- using the 2010 standings -- to Fresno State and Troy playing in college football's national semifinals.
What is about the two sports that Cinderellas in basketball can be ugly stepsisters in football?
Enjoy this fairy tale. VCU is this year's Butler, which was last year's Hoosiers. For UConn, Jeremy Lamb is 2009's Kemba Walker, who is this year's best player. Never doubt a New York point guard or a Southwestern Illinois College big man.
While Houston is bracing for a bum rush of basketball, Las Vegas is just plain bummed, at least the sports books. The search is on for the degenerate gambler who picked the fourth-place team in the Colonial Athletic Conference, the ninth-place team in the Big East, a nine-loss team from the Horizon and the second-place team (by three games) in the SEC East.

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