FINAL FOUR CAPSULES
Games Saturday at Reliant Stadium, Houston
TV: CBS (8)
ANNOUNCERS: Jim Nantz play-by-play, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr analysts
Butler vs. Virginia Commonwealth
TIME: 3:09 p.m. PDT
THE SPREAD: Butler -2.5; total 133
ENROLLMENTS: Butler 4,200; VCU 32,000
FINAL FOUR APPEARANCES: This is Butler’s second and VCU’s first.
RECORDS: Butler 27-9; VCU 28-11
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Butler won the Southeast Region as the No. 8 seed. The Bulldogs d. No. 9 Old Dominion 60-58, d. No. 1 Pittsburgh 71-70, d. No. 4 Wisconsin 61-54, d. No. 1 Florida 74-71 (OT). VCU won the Midwest Region as the No. 11 seed. The Rams d. Southern California 59-46 in play-in game, d. No. 6 Georgetown 74-56, d. No. 3 Purdue 94-76, d. No. 10 Florida State 72-71 (OT), d. No. 1 Kansas 71-61.
KEY STATS: VCU shoots 37.0 percent from 3-point range; Butler’s opponents hit just 32.7 percent of their 3-point attempts.
THE BUZZ: Two of the more improbable Final Four participants ever meet in a national semifinal. This is Butler’s second Final Four appearance in a row, a staggering feat that hasn’t received enough attention. VCU has lived — thrived, really — on the 3-pointer during its phenomenal run. VCU has hit them in transition, midway through the shot clock and at the end of the shot clock, and unless the Rams go cold or Butler finds a way to shut them down from the perimeter, the Rams will be in this one until the end. Senior point guard Joey Rodriguez (10.5 ppg, 5.1 apg) has played excellent basketball in the tourney; he has the quickness to get into the lane and find open teammates. Starting swingman Bradford Burgess (14.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and reserve guard Brandon Rozzell (11.8 ppg) have been especially effective from beyond the arc. Forward Jamie Skeen (15.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is VCU’s only real inside threat, but he also can pop from the perimeter. Guard Shelvin Mack (15.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.6 apg) is Butler’s key guy. When he is hitting from beyond the arc, it opens up the inside for big men Matt Howard (16.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Andrew Smith (8.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg). Howard, a senior, seems to have an innate ability to score on anyone in the paint, and he will be the best big man on the floor in this one. The defense of guards Ronald Nored (5.3 ppg) and Shawn Vanzant (8.1 ppg) is going to be important for Butler, which seemingly finds a way to make a play every time it needs one.
KEY INDIVIDUAL: Skeen has to come up big for VCU. He must provide an inside presence on both ends, especially on defense. VCU gives up an average of 12.3 offensive rebounds a game, a staggeringly high number for a team in the Final Four. Butler has more than held its own against bigger teams in this tournament, and this looks to be a game where the tough-minded Bulldogs could do major damage on the boards. Skeen needs to make sure Howard, Smith and the rest of the Bulldogs don’t feast on offensive rebounds. But Skeen also has to provide offense, and if he can hit a couple of midrange shots early, all the better for VCU; in that scenario, he can drag the Butler big guys out of the paint and let Rodriguez go to work with penetration.
Connecticut vs. Kentucky
TIME: 5:49 p.m. PDT
THE SPREAD: Kentucky -2.5 ; total 140
ENROLLMENTS: UConn 28,383; Kentucky 27,000
FINAL FOUR APPEARANCES: This is UConn’s fourth and Kentucky’s 14th. The Huskies have won two titles, and the Wildcats have won seven.
RECORDS: UConn 30-9; Kentucky 29-8
HOW THEY GOT HERE: UConn won the West Region as the No. 3 seed. The Huskies d. No. 14 Bucknell 81-52, d. No. 6 Cincinnati 69-58, d. No. 2 San Diego State 74-67, d. No. 5 Arizona 65-63. Kentucky won the East Region as the No. 4 seed. The Wildcats d. No. 13 Princeton 59-57, d. No. 5 West Virginia 71-63, d. No. 1 Ohio State 62-60, d. No. 2 North Carolina 76-69.
KEY STATS: Kentucky hits 40.0 percent from 3-point range; UConn is at 33.7 percent.
THE BUZZ: This is the weakest of the four teams UConn coach Jim Calhoun has brought to the Final Four, but in guard Kemba Walker (23.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.5 apg), Calhoun and the Huskies have the best player still standing. Walker is capable of carrying the Huskies offensively by himself, but that’s going to be tough to do against a Kentucky team that has played good defense over the past five weeks. The Wildcats are athletic and have good size, and it can be tough to score on them. UConn needs freshman swingman Jeremy Lamb (11.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg0, who has played well of late, to be effective offensively. Kentucky has received solid offensive play from each of the top six players in its rotation during the tournament. If one player has struggled, two or three others have picked up the slack. Kentucky needs to have success in the low post with Josh Harrellson (7.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and Terrence Jones (15.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg) against the Huskies. The Wildcats’ 3-point prowess has to worry UConn; UK has four guys who can do damage from beyond the arc — Brandon Knight (17.3 ppg, 4.2 apg, 3.9 rpg), Doron Lamb (12.3 ppg), DeAndre Liggins (8.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Darius Miller (11.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg) — and success from outside means more room inside for Jones and Harrellson.
KEY INDIVIDUAL: If UConn is going to advance to the final, Walker needs to have a big game. Kentucky isn’t an opponent the Huskies can beat if Walker scores in the high teens; he needs to score in the mid-20s. While he has 3-point range, he’s not particularly effective from beyond the arc: 33.9 percent. He needs to score in transition and on forays into the lane. That means Kentucky has to limit UConn’s transition opportunities and swarm Walker when he gets into the lane. UK coaches would much rather Lamb or Shabazz Napier (8.0 ppg) or Alex Oriakhi (9.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg) take shots than Walker.