Move over, Butler.
The NCAA tournament’s lovable underdogs will now be favourites to advance to the championship game.
Stunningly, the eighth-seeded Butler Bulldogs will take on the No. 11 seeds from Virginia Commonwealth in the Final Four in Houston next Saturday in a matchup that pits coaching wunderkids Brad Stevens, 34, against VCU’s 33-year-old bench boss Shaka Smart.
Unheralded VCU pulled off an all-time shocker, taking out the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks 71-61 in the Southwest Regional final on Sunday afternoon in San Antonio.
VCU is just the third 11 seed to ever make the final weekend, but we might never see this scenario again. The NCAA instituted play-in games for the first time this year and the Rams had to take out USC just to reach what used to be the first round of the tournament.
On a shaky 3-5 run heading into the tournament, VCU wasn’t even sure it would earn an invite.
All it has done since is take care of USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and now, the mighty Jayhawks.
Unbelievable. This is why the NCAA tournament is one of the most exciting events in all of sports.
The Rams took it to a powerhouse Kansas squad that had been gifted with what on paper was one of the easiest roads to the Final Four in recent memory — its opponents were seeded 16, 9, 12 and 11. Kansas had only trailed in its three prior tournament games for 3:29 seconds and only found itself down at the half three times all season.
But Smart’s Rams went after the bigger Jayhawks from the opening bell, letting them know that they would not be another pushover.
Firing away from downtown the way they have all tournament — VCU was outscoring opponents from the three-point line 123-63 (averaging more than 10 made threes per game) coming in — the Rams hit nine treys in the half and mixed a full-court press with some clever zone looks to completely discombobulate Kansas.
Kansas tried to go right at the press, but repeatedly threw the ball away.
With about five minutes remaining in the opening half, Kansas had as many field goals (eight) as turnovers.
A 20-4 run was the result and if not for a strong start by Big 12 player of the year Marcus Morris, Kansas would have been buried at the break.
As it was, it wasn’t in great shape, trailing 41-27.
Everyone knew what was coming next, a second-half Kansas surge, but VCU answered a 17-2 Jayhawks run with a 7-1 counter.
“We knew Kansas was going to make a run but we never gave up the lead and kept on fighting,” said a jubilant Smart when it was all over.
An unheralded program like VCU needs some good fortune to get this far and getting former North Carolina state player of the year Jamie Skeen to transfer over from ACC powerhouse Wake Forest has played a major role.
Skeen, the Rams’ leading scorer, matched his 15 point-per-game average in the first half and finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Guard Brandon Rozzell added 12 points — all on threes — and no other Ram scored in double figures.
It didn’t matter as VCU held the NCAA leaders in field goal percentage to 35.5% shooting from the field — 2-for-21 from three. Marcus Morris led Kansas with 20 points and 16 rebounds. His twin brother Markieff had 13 points and 12 boards, but turned the ball over a wretched eight times.
This will not do much for Kansas’ reputation of wilting in pressure situations.
Meanwhile, VCU continues to be one of the best tournament stories in years.