The Final Four has finally arrived. It's the weekend that every college hoophead fantasizes about as they exit the gym after Midnight Madness. It's the biggest stage, where the best teams in the land will lace 'em up under the bright lights to decide who will be the next champion of college basketball. And just as everyone predicted back in October, this evening's first match-up will feature two of the game's heavyweight programs... Butler and Virginia Commonwealth! Wait.... what?
It's still somewhat difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea that Butler and VCU are facing off in a NATIONAL SEMIFINAL GAME. This game has gotten plenty of ink throughout the week. Some people love the idea of two "little guys" matching up in Final Four. Many of the national pundits have been gladly gulping down plates of crow, after loudly decrying VCU's inclusion in the tournament. There are people out there that are genuinely excited about this match-up - even a few that don't live in Richmond or Indianapolis, or hold degrees from one of these two schools - but I am not one of them.
This would be an awesomegame... if it were being played in mid-February on Bracketbuster Saturday. But a Butler - VCU match-up in the Final Four? I'm just not that interested. On one hand you have a team that didn't deserve to even be in the tournament. No amount of back pedalling by Dick Vitale and Co. can change the fact that VCU only got into the field because of those incriminating photos they had of Gene Smith. And on the other side you have a team that lost to UWM... TWICE! It just doesn't feel like it belongs on this stage. I suspect that when the TV ratings come out, we will see that much of the country agrees with me.
There is some history to back up this assertion. In 2006, the media fell in love with George Mason and their "little Patriot that could" bit. It was the most amazing thing ever: An 11 seed, from the Colonial Athletic Association, that no one thought deserved to make the field, had taken the tourney by storm and knocked off a highly regarded no. 1 seed, en route to an improbable Final Four appearance. Sound familiar? People gobbled that up all week, but when game day came it appeared that no one really gave a crap. George Mason getting molly-whopped by eventual champ Florida was one of the lowest rated Final Four games in recent memory.
I know what you're going to say: "But Mr. K, last year's Duke vs. Butler title game was highest rated college basketball game in the last 6 years." This is true, but there were a few factors at work in that game that won't be in play this year. First, it was the title game. The fact that that game was acutally for the national championship drew more people to it than a semifinal game would have. Second, it was Duke. Love 'em or hate 'em, the Dukies move the needle. They're like the Yankees - whether people are rooting for them or against them, they're tuning in to watch them. You can't have people rooting for David when you don't have a good Goliath. There was no better Goliath to take on little Butler, IN THEIR OWN BACKYARD, than Duke. That was compelling shit. I watched that (though I must admit that I wanted Duke to win). That was a helluva scenario. But this is nothing like that. No one wants to watch David vs. David.
So would I be far more more enthused if this game was Florida vs. Kansas? You bet. I would much prefer a game between two teams that were amongst the best in the country all season, over a game between one team that had to win its conference tournament to get in and another that got in by impressively losing to Old Dominion. Does that make me a bad person? Probably, but I suspect I'm not alone. Everyone loves the underdog in the first weekend of the tournament, but by this stage of the game we'd really just rather they step aside and let the big boys do their thing.