Parsing The Sub-Classifications Of NCAA Finalists

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This Saturday began with four teams in the hunt for the NCAA men's basketball title. It will end with two. And all the teams have a personality that comes across on the court.

GUY RAZ, host:

Underdogs, Cinderellas, Powerhouses, they are all playing in today's semifinal games in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Butler versus Virginia Commonwealth, Connecticut against Kentucky.

And the man who ties the threads altogether, NPR's Mike Pesca.

MIKE PESCA: The terminal tetrad of teams fit into reliable classifications -the Huskies and Bulldogs are canines, the Kentucky Wildcats are feline and the VCU Rams, of course, are ovine.

But that's not what I'm talking about. I speak of the sub-classifications of the parties involved. For instance, Butler and VCU have been depicted all week as underdogs, lost is the kind of underdog they are. VCU coach Shaka Smart describes his team.

Mr. SHAKA SMART (Head Coach, VCU Rams): Our guys like playing fast. They love throwing the ball ahead and shooting it or attacking.

PESCA: The Rams are therefore viewed as the streaky team, whereas the word to describe Butler is, as Smart puts it...

Mr. SMART: Butler is as sound as anybody that we'd played all year.

PESCA: As far as the Connecticut-Kentucky game, it's being portrayed as teams full of future NBA players helmed by coaches who've been chastened for chasing future NBA players. But there is a difference.

Kentucky coach John Calipari is less respected by the national media than his counterpart Jim Calhoun. Calhoun, a Hall of Famer, has won championships. Calipari's experience includes two past Final Four appearances, which were since vacated by the NCAA. This uncomfortable fact was gingerly broached in yesterday's press conference.

Mr. DENNIS DODD (Sports Writer, John, I'm being facetious, but how does it feel to coach in your first Final Four?

Mr. JOHN CALIPARI (Head Coach, Kentucky Wildcats): I don't deal with that. We've been here three times. Those players played those games and did what they were supposed to.

PESCA: Calipari sminced - half smile, half wince - as he answered. He's been asked versions of this question before. Calhoun, on the other hand, who's to be suspended for a few games next season for past recruiting violations, has gone a month, dating back to the beginning of the Big East tournament without being questioned about these sanctions in an official press conference. Yesterday, he was put on the spot.

Mr. JIM CALHOUN (Head Coach, Connecticut Huskies): If anybody wants to drag up an experience that happened for two years and bring it back up, that's their choice. I'm going forward because I'm going forward with my life.

PESCA: Calhoun is a fighter, but a winner. Calipari is accomplished, but his success has been officially erased, and his ultimate prize remains as yet unattained.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, Houston, Texas.

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