By Matt Noonan
All right, let’s all admit it, excluding Connecticut, who truly had Virginia Commonwealth, Kentucky or Butler advancing to Final Four?
Clearly, I did not, but really, did anyone choose these three squads?
Of course, there were those who said, “I was rooting for North Carolina and UConn,” as well as other fans that stated, “I knew all along that Butler and VCU were going to meet for a date with destiny in Houston, Texas,” which is totally false.
However, the second to last weekend of men’s college basketball, which featured 16 teams has now been narrowed down to just four and once again, who could have predicted that these four schools would have earned this opportunity?
Virginia Commonwealth 71 – Kansas 61:
Virginia Commonwealth tallied 41 first half points and then added an additional 30 points during the second half en route to yet another tournament victory.
Not only did the Rams outplay the Jayhawks, but also had a member of their team that scored 26 points and his name is Jamie Skeen. Skeen made sure Kansas knew which number he was wearing, as the senior pulled down 10 rebounds, (four on offense and six on defense) and recorded two steals. Skeen also didn’t record a single foul through forty minutes of basketball, which in all honesty is quite impressive, right?
Although, despite Skeen’s impressive performance, Kansas maintained the momentum in the second half, as they limited the Rams offensive series, but also, came within striking distance to retain the lead. The Jayhawks led the Rams during the opening minutes of the first half, but Virginia Commonwealth slowly took their time and eventually stole the lead away from Kansas for good.
Kansas finished the game with three players who recorded 13 points or more, but again, their first half effort was clearly what slowed them down and allowed the Rams to easily escape with a victory.
Marcus Morris finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds, while Tyshawn Taylor added an additional 14 points, three assists and two rebounds.
The Rams run toward a NCAA championship has been exciting, but next Saturday, April 2, they’ll face a team that similar to them, still continues to struggle for respect. The Butler Bulldogs are gritty, tough, physical, as well as play true team basketball, but that can also be said about the Rams, who similar to them, have upset some impressive teams too.
Kentucky 76 – North Carolina 69:
The Tar Heels led once during the entire contest, but that was just 4-2. After falling behind by only two points, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats took off and never surrendered the lead.
Brandon Knight scored a team high 22 points, as well as recorded seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Clearly, North Carolina had no idea of how to defend the freshman guard, but despite heading into halftime with an eight point deficit, the Tar Heels rallied in the second half, as well as came within one point of earning their second lead of the game.
Harrison Barnes played tremendous, especially down the stretch when North Carolina was attempting to do everything in their power to either tie the game or force overtime, but Kentucky’s free throw shooting proved to also be the difference during the closing minutes. As a team, the Wildcats converted [10-16] free throws, but North Carolina won the battle at the line, as they sank [12-15].
The Tar Heels clearly seemed to be baffled by the Wildcats fast break offense, yet, North Carolina’s defense played extremely well at times, as well as limited Kentucky to just seven offensive rebounds.
If one were to have looked at the box score, clearly, the single piece of paper doesn’t measure up to the actual performance, but similar to the style of Butler, Kentucky maneuvered themselves past another admirable opponent in order to reach their 13th Final Four in school history.
The Wildcats have won seven national championships and will look to earn banner number eight on April 4, but first, they’ll have to take down another top team, University of Connecticut, which certainly will be the game to watch on April 2, but in the meantime, Kentucky can celebrate like champions because they did indeed win their portion of the Eastern bracket.