Words. Julian Caldwell
Conspicuously absent from this year’s Final Four are the top seeds that steamed rolled their way through the regular season. Instead, you see teams that struggled to perform like elite squads and drew questions of whether they even deserved tournament bids.
Duke, Kansas, Ohio State and Pittsburgh, the four No. 1 seeds, came into the Big Dance with a combined 13 losses. Butler, Connecticut, Kentucky and Virginia Commonwealth go into the Final Four with nearly triple that number.
Butler, last year’s national championship runner-up, struggled through most of the regular season and, in late January into early February, lost three-straight to Milwaukee, Valparaiso and Youngstown State – teams that weren’t even close to being in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
With another top-notch freshmen class in a relatively shaky SEC, Kentucky was expected to fare significantly better than the 10-6 record it posted in conference. But it lost games against mediocre Arkansas and Alabama teams that really made you question how the Wildcats could possibly be destined for longevity.
Connecticut rode the Kemba Walker wave during non-conference play and put together 10 straight wins, but when him began to cool off in January, so did the team. In February, UConn got blown out by Louisville and St. John’s, and lost a home game to Marquette, raising questions as to whether Kemba had enough help to get the Huskies out of the first round.
Virginia Commonwealth’s struggles in the regular season have been well documented. The Rams lost 11 games (among them, two to Georgia State, Northeastern, Drexel and George Mason) and were lucky to get invited to a play-in game to make it to the field of 64.
If you’ve been paying attention, you see a theme of teams getting used to losing to the point that it leaves a bitter taste in their mouths and they are motivated to just not do it anymore. Those regular season struggles hurt, but most importantly they served as wakeup calls for teams like VCU to elevate their games come March.
Maybe the problem with the top-ranked teams hasn’t been a cockiness that keeps them from respecting opponents, but the fact that they haven’t had the losses to light a fire underneath them and push them to never play below their potential again. For No. 1-seeded Kansas, completing a perfect regular season is almost impossible, so two regular season losses were nothing to worry about.
Yet, just imagine if after being upset by VCU, Kansas had the opportunity to take out their frustrations in a win-or-go-home tournament for national supremacy. They would probably be an even scarier team than they were.
This year’s NCAA Tournament has proved that regular season play means next to nothing when determining a national champion. That makes the selection committee’s job even harder since it has to organize the field based on what teams do during scheduled play. How accurate can the committee be when a team in a major conference with two losses can’t beat a mid-major with 11?
The interesting thing to see now will be how all of these hungry remaining teams matchup, and if the Final Four holds even more surprises.
Who do you think will win it all?
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