Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March Madness Culminates with Insanity at Reliant

OK, sports you go: The Final Four in Houston at Reliant Stadium. The NCAA men's basketball championship will be the first champion decided in our city since the New England Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers on February 1, 2004.

Two powerhouses of the past, UConn of the past two decades and Kentucky of the past half century, will play each other Saturday to determine who will play for the championship. Butler plays upstart VCU as they battle for the right to try on the lone remaining glass slipper and claim their identity as the true Cinderella.

More than ever before, this year's Final Four is more a story of the teams' coaches than the schools' teams. Jim Calhoun of UConn is looking for vindication and validation as coach of his team that battled all season long in the Big East, with the scars to prove it, in what many consider the sport's toughest conference. Jim Calipari of Kentucky is trying to prove he does not deserve to be considered the greasiest thing this side of Jiffy Lube. Brad Stevens of Butler is playing Saturday for the right to have his team play its second championship game in as many years without looking old enough to have graduated college himself! And Shaka Smart will look to continue to defy the odds and his team's naysayers regarding VCU's right to be in the tournament, and their prospects of winning it all.

Because of the brackets, we are guaranteed a David vs. Goliath match-up: It will be either VCU or Butler against UConn or Kentucky. Butler will prevail against the innovative and brilliant Shaka Smart - coached VCU, and then will defeat the Calipari - led Wildcats who will make some incomprehensible last minute mistake in a situation borne of a game with inexplicably non-existent fundamentals that will still result in the lauding of a coach for his ability to recruit in a new era of "one-and-dones", but still falls short of coaching squads to a championship.

And that's why this Final Four will be more about coaches. Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart chose to build and lead programs that develop and grow programs, as opposed to leveraging university reputation to seize fleeting moments. Butler was a nice story last year and came within an "all so close" bank shot of beating Duke for the championship, but no one really expected them back again. Yet here they are, poised to take down either of the two giants remaining Monday night.

And even if it's not the Bulldogs, there will be the Rams challenged to win just one more game to be the greatest story in the history of the NCAA tournament.

Shaka can, Shaka can...Shaka can!

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