Final Four promises to be rivetting

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:35 PM ET

HOUSTON — It’s go time.

Well, not yet actually, but the Final Four is fast approaching.

Can it possibly live up to what was, by all accounts, one of the most memorable and exciting Sweet 16/Elite 8 slates in recent memory?

That won’t be an easy task, but it is possible. If one of Butler or Virginia Commonwealth can win the national championship, it will be bigger not only than what happened last week, but even bigger than Butler’s improbable run last year.

We’re here in balmy Houston to take it all in and to see if one of the most memorable NCAA tournaments in years can be capped off by a stirring final weekend.

This is a Final Four of David, Goliath X 2 and an uber-David.

Big, bad, Kentucky — which gets a little bit harder to hate starting Friday when its super-fan Ashley Judd shows up — has an incredible 14 Final Four appearances to its credit. Connecticut has been here four times — all since it emerged as one of the best programs around by winning its first championship in 1999. Butler’s been here twice in a row and would be the massive underdog any other year, any other place. Just not this time. Not with VCU, a play-in team that nobody saw coming, set to lock horns with the Bulldogs on Saturday.

That game probably won’t sizzle like UConn-Kentucky, the athletes on both sides aren’t as spectacular and Butler likes to win ugly, but it should be a good one. It is seen as the undercard and the general belief seems to be that whoever wins will just lose in the title game, but VCU and Butler are here for a reason. Butler plays its game very well and is extremely well-coached, while the Rams believe in themselves, can shoot the lights out when they are on and get right up on opponents, pressuring them into mistakes.

Sure, if either side wins it all, they become the biggest Cinderella story ever, but if this tourney has taught us anything, it’s that we should expect the unexpected.

Kentucky-UConn will give fans, media and salivating NBA scouts and executives a chance to see something that usually doesn’t happen this late in the proceedings: A matchup between two potential top draft picks, Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight. Not to mention Walker, of the Huskies, was named the winner of the Bob Cousy award on Thursday after averaging 23.9 points and 4.5 assists. The top player isn’t always on a top team, so it’s rarer than one would think to see the player of the year still going at this point.

Walker topped BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, Duke’s Nolan Smith, Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor and Cleveland State’s Norris Cole.

Knight, a freshman, hasn’t matched his numbers, but has shared Walker’s knack for coming through in the clutch with two game-winning shots for Kentucky so far during their run.

The winner of that battle could well decide who goes on to the championship game.

No less fascinating are the coaching matchups.

On the one hand, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, 68, is looking to pass Phog Allen, who was 66 when he did the trick with Kansas way back in 1952, as the oldest to ever win the NCAA championship.

He’ll face John Calipari, one of only two coaches (Rick Pitino) to ever take three different teams to the Final Four.

Meanwhile, amazingly, the combined age of VCU’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens is five months younger than Calhoun’s age.

Yet, Stevens has been here twice already, while Calhoun has only done it four times, winning it all twice.

Either the old man gets title No. 4, or a first-time winner gets it done.

All will be revealed on Monday night.


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