Half of the Final Four is set, as the Butler Bulldogs claimed the Southeast crown with a thrilling overtime win over the Florida Gators and the Connecticut Huskies claimed an exciting win of their own, topping the Arizona Wildcats in the West final.
These two teams will learn their opponents for Saturday this afternoon, as the second half of the bracket is wrapped up. We can only hope that today's contests will be as exciting as yesterday's. If they are, this quartet of regional finals may rival those of 2005 in the annals of college basketball.
Southwest Region Final
My Pick: On its face, this one is pretty cut and dried. Kansas should be able to use its size to thoroughly dominate VCU and advance. However, Florida State's advantage didn't do them much good on Friday night. Still, the Rams are arguably only here because of the Seminoles' inability to close, while the Jayhawks are playing with a fire that was absent in last year's run. KenPom.com projects a 81-68 win for Kansas, but if the Rams shoot the three-ball as well as they have in their previous four NCAA games, they'll match George Mason's 2006 Final Four run. I'm picking Kansas, but by a closer margin.
East Region Final
My Pick: This game is a rematch December 4th's 75-73 Tar Heel win in Chapel Hill, a result that was a major surprise at the time. However, both teams have grown up considerably since then. UNC followed up a bad loss to Georgia Tech on January 16th by winning 17 of their last 19. Kentucky hasn't quite been so hot, but they've won nine straight and 10 out of 11. For both teams, freshmen have been leading the way, with a few of notable exceptions. Harrison Barnes' presence and Kendall Marshall's emergence have boosted a Tar Heel team that features just one senior on the roster. As for the Wildcats, senior Josh Harrellson has been a pleasant surprise during the team's late run, complementing youngsters Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, and Doron Lamb. KenPom.com projects a nailbiter, a 73-72 Kentucky win. I think it will be a Carolina victory, but by a very narrow margin.