It would be quite a tall order for today's remaining Elite Eight matchups to equal what went down yesterday between Florida and Butler, and then Connecticut and Arizona. That said, if there is one sporting event in world that surprises more often, or surpasses expectations with more frequency than March Madness, I'd like to know what it is.
Butler and Connecticut did their part to entertain us yesterday. Today, we have two games that are interesting in completely different ways. Here's a look at both games as the Final Four in Houston fast approaches:
Southwest Region Final: (11) Virginia Commonwealth Rams vs. (1) Kansas Jayhawks
It's easy to say that VCU's improbable run will likely end today, and it probably will. But let's not overlook the fact that Kansas, while they are a powerhouse and were deserving of the top seed, has not faced any real competition in this playoff yet.
VCU's run started with an easy win over sixth-seeded Georgetown, but they started to garner some real attention with an 18-point victory over Purdue, who came in as a three seed. Similar to Florida, VCU seems to have a different standout player for every tournament round. They'll have to continue their excellent ball movement and offensive flow if they hope to stand a chance against Kansas.
The Jayhawks have kind of been coasting, through no fault of their own. Easy wins over Boston U., Illinois, and Richmond have landed them one game away from Houston. They've yet to have one of those signature March Madness wins, but they have done exactly what they should do - beat inferior teams with ease. On paper, VCU is certainly inferior to Kansas, but if the Jayhawks can withstand the initial momentum/confidence boost that VCU is sure to have, they should be fine.
Prediction: The Jayhawks pull away late, and VCU comes away with some great memories.
East Region Final: (4) Kentucky Wildcats vs. (2) North Carolina Tar Heels
Perennial college hoops powerhouses going at it for one spot in the Final Four. That's what March Madness is all about!
Kentucky's 2011 Tournament has been impressive. After barely getting by Princeton in their first game, the Wildcats got past West Virginia and Ohio State, fifth and first seeds, respectively. Their impressive defensive performance against the Buckeyes Friday had a lot of OSU fans falling back on their familiar "we are a football school anyway" refrain. Poor Buckeye fan. Always having to justify things to everyone (themselves?).
The Tar Heels played some defense of their own in a win over Marquette Friday, including five blocks from John Henson. If they can continue that defensive effort and pair it with their consistent offensive ability, it's going to be tough for the Wildcats to move on to Houston. Tyler Zeller is going to be a tough assignment for Kentucky to handle. The forward went for 27 points and 12 rebounds against Marquette, and Harrison Barnes contributed 20 and nine. That frontcourt is going to be tough to handle for Kentucky, or anyone else the Heels run up against.
Prediction: I have high hopes for this one. These two played earlier in the season in Chapel Hill, with Carolina coming out on top 75-73. I'm going with the Heels to come up big again, and (now that Arizona is out) they're going to be my favorite to cut the nets down in Houston.