By Stacey Kilpatrick
It’s the angry Butler Bulldogs and the ferocious Virginia Commonwealth Rams vying for a spot in the NCAA Championship finals. No one suspected an 8-seed and an 11-seed to be playing for the coveted chance. Not a person. Maybe those teams who were a 4 or 5 seed, but an 8 and 11 in the Horizon and the Colonial Conferences? No way!
No Atlantic 10, no ACC, no Big 12, no PAC 10, no Big Ten; the Horizon and the CAA. It’s a “Cinderella” run as many call it, but should #8 Butler and #11 VCU even have the opportunity to play for this title?
With this being the first EVER run where an 8-or-higher-seed is in the final four, it’s certainly grabbed a lot of attention. And since Butler fell to Duke last year in the Championship, with then-Bulldog Gordon Hayward narrowly missing the half court last-second shot, I’m sure the competition will be even heavier on April 2 at extreme ends; those crossing their foam fingers for the deprived to reign, and those shaking their heads and running their mouths, wanting the Bulldogs to fall once more.
Both teams have had exciting tournaments so far, but how do they stack up statistically?
Butler finished [27-9] overall and [13-5] in the Horizon. They held their breaths in the final seconds of two games. On March 17, Butler beat #9 Old Dominion, 60-58, after Matt Howard tipped in the game-winner at the buzzer. Two nights later, Howard’s free throw with 0:01 remaining put the team up, 71-70 over top-seeded Pittsburgh, ultimately knocking the Panthers out. In the Sweet 16 the Bulldogs beat #4 Wisconsin 61-54 and during Elite Eight play they booted the #2 Florida Gators 74-71 in overtime.
The Rams went [28-11] overall and [12-6] in the Colonial. In third round play, they upset #3 Purdue 94-76, securing their first visit to the Sweet 16. Bradford Burgess put VCU up, 72-71 with 6-seconds left in overtime against #10 Florida State, and when Chris Singleton couldn’t put down two points for the Seminoles with 0:02 remaining, the Rams won.
But the most shocking was when, I’ll say it again, #11 VCU upset #1 Kansas 71-61 on March 27. The Rams were up, 41-27 at the half and during the game they shot 48.0% from beyond the arc compared to the Jayhawks’ uncharacteristic and embarrassing 9.5%.
VCU is a team that, in contrast ranks 99th overall in points per game to Kansas’ 5th, 301st in rebounds to Kansas’ 19th, 83rd in assists to Kansas’ 2nd and 180th in field goal percentage to Kansas’…1st.
How, how, how did the Rams beat the Jayhawks and make it to the Final Four? They must have ridden in a pumpkin instead of a team bus and substituted fairy godmother dust over Gatorade.
With VCU’s push, it seems as if they can outlast Butler. But Butler did pull upsets of their own and they’re back again dribbling for victory that was so closely in their sweaty, calloused hands last year.