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March 29, 2011 The Final Four is finally here! Just as everyone predicted, the National Semifinals feature Connecticut, Kentucky, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth. Okay, so maybe no one predicted this, but we know one thing for sure; a mid-major will play for a National Championship for the second straight year. The Virginia Commonwealth-Butler match-up will feature the two largest seeds ever to meet in a Final Four. Butler has beat a one seed, a two and a four to reach Houston while VCU has won one more game than any of the other teams there. VCU is winning by an average of 12 points-per-game. Ironically, outside the play-in game, the lowest seed the Rams faced gave them the best game. The Connecticut-Kentucky game sells itself. For the final time before crowning a National Champion, here’s the Weekly Dish:

Best Game of the Sweet 16 - (4) Kentucky 62 (1) Ohio State 60 Against what most considered to be the best team in the country, the Wildcats of Kentucky scratched and clawed before knocking off top-seeded Ohio State. A trip to the Elite 8 looked like inevitability for Kentucky as it clung to a three-point-lead as the clock ticked under 30 seconds. Ohio State’s Jon Diebler used a screen and buried a NBA-range three-pointer to tie the game at 60. With the ball and an opportunity to hold for the last shot, the Wildcats turned to their clutch freshman. With less than ten seconds to play, Brandon Knight knocked down a contested 15-foot-jumper to give the Wildcats a 62-60 lead. With one last chance to keep the season alive, Ohio State’s William Buford heaved a desperation three-point-shot, but it came up short. The game-winner for Knight was his second in three tournament games.

Best Game of the Elite 8 - (8) Butler 74 (2) Florida 71 The Butler Bulldogs are headed back to the Final Four following their come-from-behind overtime win over Florida’s Gators. Florida built an 11-point-lead with just under nine and a half minutes to play, but the Bulldogs just would not go away. Butler used a 9-2 run to pull within four with under four minutes to play. After drawing to within one, forward Matt Howard was fouled with 31 seconds to play with a chance to give the Bulldogs the lead. Howard split the free throws; the game went to overtime following a miss by Florida’s Erving Walker on the final shot of regulation. Guards Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored combined for nine of Butler’s 14 points in the overtime. Butler made all seven of its free throw attempts in overtime while Florida went five for eight. The Bulldogs built a 74-71 lead, but Florida had the ball with a chance to tie. Erving Walker once again was unsuccessful on a three-point-attempt and Butler held on and advanced to a second consecutive Final Four. Butler coach Brad Stevens become the youngest coach ever to take a team to two Final Fours.

Most Shocking Upset - (11) Virginia Commonwealth 71 (1) Kansas 61 After reaching the NCAA Tournament as a controversial at-large selection, the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth have pulled off an improbable run to the Final Four. On Sunday, the Rams cut down the nets after knocking off the sole remaining one seed. VCU did it with its defense and three point shooting. Virginia Commonwealth held Kansas to 36 percent shooting from the field. The Rams shot 12-for-25 from beyond the arc and built a 41-27 halftime lead that they would not relinquish. Kansas drew as close as two in the second half, but could not get over the hump as VCU became just the second team from the CAA to reach the Final Four.

The Weekly Dish’s All-Second Week Team

Brandon Knight - Guard, Kentucky Kentucky’s fantastic freshman guard had a tough weekend shooting the ball, but came up clutch for the Wildcats. Knight knocked down the game winning jumper in the Sweet 16 against Ohio State on Friday night. On Sunday, Knight scored 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished out four assists and recorded three steals as the Wildcats knocked off North Carolina 76-69. The Wildcats led most of the way, but North Carolina drew even with 3:18 left. On the following possession, Knight knocked down a clutch three that put the Wildcats ahead for good at 70-67. The freshman averaged 15.5 points in two games last week.

Kemba Walker - Guard, Connecticut Connecticut’s Kemba Walker played all 40 minutes in both games in Anaheim as the Huskies picked up two victories to advance to the Final Four. After scoring 36 points in UCONN’s Sweet 16 victory over San Diego State, Walker came up big against Arizona in the Elite 8. Walker scored 20 points and added seven assists while hiting big shots to thwart numerous Arizona runs. Connecticut will be playing in its second Final Four in three years. The Huskies missed the tournament completely a year ago.

Shelvin Mack - Guard, Butler Butler’s junior guard averaged 20 points in two games in New Orleans and hit timely shots as the Bulldogs advanced to a second straight Final Four. Mack struggled against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, but his timely jumper with under a minute to play turned out to be a dagger for the Badgers. In an Elite 8 match-up with Florida, Mack scored 27 points including the three-pointer in overtime that gave Butler the lead for good. Mack, a Lexington native could have a rather large chip on his shoulder should Butler meet Kentucky in the National Championship game.

Jamie Skeen - Forward, Virginia Commonwealth Senior Jamie Skeen scored just 11 points and brought down eight rebounds for VCU against a very good frontline for Florida State in the Sweet 16. VCU escaped with a 72-71 overtime victory over the Seminoles in San Antonio. But on Sunday, against perhaps the deepest frontcourt in the country, Skeen scored 26 points and ripped down 10 rebounds as VCU completed an improbable run to the Final Four with a victory over one-seed Kansas.

Matt Howard - Forward, Butler Matt Howard averaged 17 points and seven rebounds in Butler’s two victories in New Orleans. Against Wisconsin, Howard led Butler with 20 points and nine rebounds while connecting on nine of ten free throw attempts. Against Florida in the Elite 8, Howard struggled early, but hit timely shots including the free throw that sent the game into overtime. Howard hit game-winning shots in two victories during the first week of the NCAA Tournament. His match-up with Virginia Commonwealth’s Jamie Skeen will be a fun one to watch in the Final Four on Saturday.

Shaka Smart - Head Coach, Virginia Commonwealth In his second year with VCU, Shaka Smart has been the inspirational force behind the Rams’ five tournament victories. Smart coached VCU to the championship of the CBI last year and has the Rams with realistic aspirations of a greater championship this year. Smart also drew up the inbounds play that resulted in the game-winning layup against Florida State in the Sweet 16. Smart’s name will be one that will be thrown around when coaching vacancies are filled following the tournament.

Honorable Mention Jeremy Lamb G Connecticut, Bradford Burgess G VCU, Josh Harrellson C Kentucky, Brad Stevens HC Butler

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