No one saw this match up coming. Very few even had one of the two teams in the Final Four. But on Saturday, Virginia Commonwealth University not only upset No. 1 Kansas in convincing fashion, but also set up an unforeseen Cinderella story matchup for next weekend against Butler University.
Just escaping the first weekend seemed highly unlikely for the two teams. Butler was a two-point underdog against Colonial Athletic Association champions Old Dominion in its first game. Meanwhile, the inclusion of VCU in the tournament was roasted by many. ESPN.com's vaunted Bracketology gave Butler only a 7.9 percent chance of making it to the Sweet 16 and a 0.6 percent chance of making the Final Four. That's not bad when considering that VCU wasn't even listed.
Both teams had a minimal chance of surviving the first weekend, but now, both will be playing in the final weekend.
Butler's 2010-11 road to the Final Four was a bit bumpier than that of last year. Just a year ago, as a No. 5 seed, the Bulldogs lost to Duke in the national title. This year, without the star of the 2010 team, Gordon Hayward, the Bulldogs had just a 13-5 record in the Horizon Conference and 3-3 record against teams in the top 50 in RPI. At one point, the team lost four of five games, falling to Wright State, Milwaukee, Valparaiso and even Youngstown State, a team with an RPI of 269, during that span.
On the other side, VCU arguably had no business playing in the tournament. ESPN analysts Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas made a mockery of VCU for its invite. Vitale said the mistake was like picking Roseanne Barr over Scarlett Johansson in a beauty pageant, while Bilas said VCU's invitation to the Big Dance was "indefensible."
The Rams had 11 regular-season losses, just a 12-6 record in a weaker CAA conference and a 3-5 record against RPI top 50. A week before losing to Old Dominion in the conference championship game, the team lost four of five as well, falling to Old Dominion, George Mason, Drexel and James Madison.
However, the past is the past. Regardless of regular-season standing and struggles, both VCU and Butler outlasted several powerhouse teams to make the Final Four. Butler topped No.1 seed Pittsburgh in the first weekend, and later No. 4 seed Wisconsin and No. 2 seed Florida. VCU marched through USC, No. 6 Georgetown, No. 3 Purdue, No. 10 Florida State and on Sunday, stunned No. 1-seeded Kansas.
As a result of their runs, the matchup between Butler and VCU will be the highest combined seeds to play against each other in the Final Four, and VCU will join George Mason and LSU as the two 11 seeds to ever reach the national semifinals.
VCU senior guard Joey Rodriguez said it perfectly, after beating favored USC in the first round of the tournament.
"We know that it's a matter of us focusing for 40 minutes on both ends of the court," Rodriguez said. "if we do that, we have the ability to play with anybody in the country."
Experts may still be criticizing VCU for making the tournament, and Butler is still reliving its Cinderella story of 2010, but both the Rams and Bulldogs have proven that the Final Four isn't always just exclusive to top-seeded teams.
On Saturday, April 2, one of the two teams' Cinderella story will come to an end, but both will be remembered.
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