Cinderella Teams The Belles Of Final Four Ball
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
I wait all week for this. Time for sports.
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The Final Four faceoff this afternoon in this year's NCAA men's tournament. Unranked upstarts have upset their more heralded opponents at nearly every turn. But will March Madness give away to April Oh Yeah. Maybe I mean oy vey. Mike Pesca joins us from Houston, where the games will tip off.
Thanks for being with us, Mike.
MIKE PESCA: Or, ooh ah.
SIMON: Or ooh ah. Look semifinal game that starts at I believe 6 pm eastern time this evening. The 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth plays I can't believe I'm calling them the favored Butler Bulldogs. But there you go. Is this the battle of the Cinderellas?
PESCA: That's how it is being hyped. And at this point I guess it just takes a little while for human beings to adjust their sets - adjust the way they perceive things. And, you know, people still haven't gotten past the fact that Butler is an eight seed and VCU is an 11 seed. And the names on the front of the jerseys are not the huge powerhouse schools.
But the way these two teams have been playing in the tournament - not necessarily all year - but in the tournament, just shows that they're great teams.
PESCA: VCU is very hot and they get really hot from the outside. And Butler is great at defense and they have a knack for scoring when they need to score.
And in this game, you know, if you look at the one huge stat in the game it's the three-pointers. Butler has shot more and made more three-pointers than anyone in this tournament. Almost more three-pointers than anyone would think would be possible in the NCAA tournament. But Butler's very good at defending the three-pointer. So it could come all down to that space 20 feet from the basket.
SIMON: Now, let me ask you. Butler's been there before, much as they're an underdog, and I read today, of course, they're going to be playing in the I guess it's called Reliance Stadium.
PESCA: Yes. Right next to the Astrodome.
SIMON: Ordinarily a football field there in Houston, which holds 76,000 plus. Now, VCU, the Rams, play in the 7,500 seat Siegel Center, which I believe is the only NCAA stadium named after Robert Siegel. Could they be rattled by the difference in the crowd?
PESCA: Yeah. And especially when they were here before, but the here was there and the there was Indianapolis. So last year's Final Four was in Butler's hometown.
Another thing to take into effect is that even though VCU's a small school we think of it as a small school. They play in a 7,000-seat arena. They have 23,000 or so undergraduates. And I see a lot of them walking around Houston. They actually have more undergraduates - VCU does - than Connecticut and Kentucky. So Butler just has a much smaller fan base - it's a 4,000 or so school - to draw from.
I don't think they'll be rattled, only because they're never rattled. And anyone who doesn't have a specific rooting interest, I think, has to be a little bit drawn to the Bulldogs.
SIMON: UConn, Kentucky, what's the difference there? I mean, VCU and Butler have these, you know, young, motivate-ier(ph) coaches. UConn and Kentucky have a couple of guys who've been around the block.
PESCA: Around the block and also both of them - John Calipari, the coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, has been to the Final Four twice. Although, if you look at the official records they don't reflect that because both of those appearances were vacated when - in the case of UMass Marcus Camby was shown to take money. In the case of Memphis, Derrick Rose maybe got an assist with his SATs or his ACTs.
But Calipari�really does have experience and he really has a tough, tough team. They reflect the coach's mindset.
But the toughest guy, the guy with the hardest mindset in maybe all of college sports, is the Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun. And they have a great player in Kemba Walker, who'll be the best player on the floor. So it's five, well-coached, really athletic, tough Kentucky guys against Kemba and his supporting cast. So it could come down to the supporting cast. And they're a great team.
SIMON: NPR's Mike Pesca in Houston for the Final Four.
Thanks so much, Mike.
PESCA: You're welcome.
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