Greatest Tournament Ever?
April 4, 2011

Butler almost pulled off the mother of all upsets last year. There's Villanova shocking Georgetown in 1985, and just two years earlier, coach Jimmy Valvano was running all over the court looking for someone to hug after NC State defeated Houston. But top to bottom, you could make the case that this was the best NCAA basketball tournament of all time.

Tonight's championship game wasn't one for the memory banks, though. Connecticut defeated Butler 53-41 in the lowest scoring title game since 1949. Butler shot a dismal 19 percent for the game, the worst of all time in a championship contest, but still led 22-19 at halftime. CBS' Clark Kellogg appropriately called it "unparalleled ineptitude". That said, the '11 Tournament will be remembered for other things.

Seeding began in 1979. The tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, and in 2011 the First Four was added. There have been play-in rounds before, but this was the first time so called "at large" teams had to play their way in. VCU did it, beat USC, and then made it all the way to the Final Four.

In the 63 games that followed the first four, 20 of them were upsets. That means about a third of the time, the higher seeded team lost. 21 of the 63 games were decided by 3 points or fewer, or went into overtime. And in the tournament, each of the two finalists had a one point win (Butler over Pittsburgh 71-70 and UConn over Kentucky 56-55), and a two-point win (Butler 60-58 over Old Dominion and Connecticut getting by Arizona 65-63). Butler also had a three-point overtime victory against Florida 74-71 in the Southeast Regional final.

Both finalists have great stories. Connecticut had to win five games in five nights in the Big East tournament just to get an invite, and Butler, the small school in Indianapolis getting to the title game last year like something out of the movie Hoosiers, doing it again.

Other story lines include the coaches. Baby-faced Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart on one side of the Final Four bracket, and big-time winners John Calipari and Jim Calhoun on the other. At 68, Calhoun becomes the oldest coach to win a title, and just the fifth in college basketball history to win at least three championships.

It seems over the last few years, March Madness would provide a few upsets along the way, but ultimately the Dukes, Kansases, or North Carolinas would win it all, but not this time. But even though in the end, a big boy school from the Big East conference picks up the hardware, the 2011 Tournament could go down as its own shining moment in NCAA history.

Note to myself and Charles Barkley: After ripping the Big East conference for losing 9 of its 11 entries in the first weekend, it was a Big East school that cut down the nets.

Fun Fact: It's hard to believe that I would have anything in common with an 18 year-old, seven-foot, 250 pound center that goes to school in Virginia, but VCU Freshman D.J. Haley and I are both from Palmdale and went to Palmdale High School. The association ends there. Not only is Haley an exceptional athlete, but had a 4.0 GPA, and had some Ivy League schools show interest in him. Haley is studying to be an engineer.

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