Meet the 2010-2011 Final Four

By Ben Jones and Ethan Levine

University of Kentucky Wildcats

The Cats will return to the Final Four for the first time in 13 years, the longest drought in program history.

After losing four starters and five of their top six players to the NBA a year ago, and after disappointing losses to the likes of Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, many thought this year’s UK team would struggle in the NCAA Tournament.

But after winning its first three tournament games by a combined 12 points, including two game-winning shots from freshman Brandon Knight, UK found itself back in the Elite Eight against fellow storied program North Carolina, who UK defeated by seven points to reach its 14th Final Four.

UK head coach John Calipari becomes the second coach all time to take three different teams to the Final Four, joining former UK head coach Rick Pitino.

The Cats mixture of talented freshmen Knight, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones along with experienced veterans DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller and Josh Harrellson makes them a formidable force in Houston.

Harrellson, the team’s lone senior, is a Final Four MVP candidate, averaging 15 points and nine rebounds in the tournament, and his team is playing its best basketball of the season.

With such a short bench, foul trouble could derail the Cats, but Calipari has a real chance to claim his first national championship.

Starters: G Brandon Knight, G Doron Lamb, G Darius Miller, F Terrence Jones, F Josh Harrellson

Key Reserves: G DeAndre Liggins

University of Connecticut Huskies

UK fans know the Cats’ Final Four opponent well.

The Huskies handed John Calipari and Co. their first lost this season, a 84-67 blowout in the Maui Invitational back on Nov. 24. The UConn Huskies have been one of the hottest teams in the NCAA this March.

After an improbable run in the Big East tournament, including five wins in five days at Madison Square Garden to win the conference championship, UConn earned a No. 3 seed in this year’s tournament.

With victories over Bucknell, Cincinnati, San Diego State and a streaky Arizona team fresh off their dismantling of top-seeded Duke, UConn has improved its current win streak to nine games in a row, and improved their record in neutral-site tournament games to 12-0.

The Huskies have a coach with Final Four experience in Jim Calhoun, and a team that’s accustomed to playing in a win-or-go-home environment.

Led by guard Kemba Walker, regarded by many as one of the top players in the nation, the Huskies threaten opponents with speed and athleticism from the outside along with physical play inside.

Young players like Alex Oriakhi and Jeremy Lamb will also need to make contributions for the Huskies to continue their run.

Starters: G Kemba Walker, G Jeremy Lamb, F Roscoe Smith, F Tyler Olander, F-C Alex Oriakhi

Key Reserves: G Shabazz Napier, F Jamal Coombs McDaniel, C Charles Okwandu

University of Butler Bulldogs

The Bulldogs followed up their improbable run to the 2010 National Championship game with another improbable NCAA Tournament run in 2011.

Coach Brad Stevens, just 34 years old, has taken Butler to two consecutive Final Fours, transforming the program from mid-major after thought to perennial title contenders.

The Bulldogs road to the Final Four was far from conventional, with a buzzer beating first round over Old Dominion, a chaotic free throw shooting contest late with top seeded Pitt, and an overtime victory over Florida in the Elite Eight.

There’s no superstar for this team like Gordon Hayward was last year, but with the experienced leadership of senior forward Matt Howard and junior guard and Lexington native Shelvin Mack,

Butler has been this far before and wont be satisfied with falling short a second straight season.

Mack and Howard both average over 15 points per game, and while the rest of the team is comprised mostly of role players, Stevens has shown that he can propel his squad past collections of more talented players.

Starters: G Shelvin Mack, Shawn Vanzant, G Chase Stigall, F Matt Howard, C Andrew Smith

Key Reserves: G Ronald Nored, F Khyle Marshall

Virginia Commonwealth University Rams

The Rams have certainly been this year’s Cinderella team in the NCAA Tournament.

An 11-seed from the small Colonial Athletic Association, the Rams become just the third ever 11-seed to reach the Final Four, following in the footsteps of the 1986 LSU and 2006 George Mason teams.

VCU was an afterthought just a couple weeks ago, relegated to a play-in game against USC to make the round of 64. VCU was selected as one of the last four team’s to play in the newly-expanded tournament’s first round. Had the tournament not expanded from 65 to 68 teams this year, VCU would likely have not even been selected to the big dance this year.

Becoming the first team to have to win five games to reach the Final Four, VCU has shocked the nation with excellent play from senior guard Joey Rodriguez and senior forward Jamie Skeen.

The Rams have completed their unlikely run from the First Four to the Final Four on the strength of a transition game from an experienced core. Four of the top five scorers for VCU are seniors, and the other is a junior.

After defeating ranked teams including Georgetown, Purdue, and top-seeded Kansas, VCU looks as though they are a team capable of competing in the Final Four with fellow mid-major Butler.

Starters: G Joey Rodriguez,G Ed Nixon, G Rob Brandenburg, F Jamie Skeen, F Juvonte Riddic

Key Reserves: G Brandon Rozzell, G Bradford Burgess, F Toby Veal