The Reuters global sports blog
A Final Four To Remember
Despite concerns that the NCAA championship game will not feature an attention grabbing headline (Butler – West Virginia is not a ratings dream for CBS), this Final Four will be memorable, both on and off the court.
For starters, this might be the last year of the current format for March Madness. What started as speculation of expansion of the beloved NCAA Tournament from 65 (including the initial play-in game) to 96 teams is gaining further momentum. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany recently told USA Today that the likelihood of expansion of the tournament for 2011 is “probable”.
The motivation behind this decision is financial as the television revenue of a larger tournament could yield even more than the existing 11-year, $6 billion dollar agreement the NCAA has with CBS. Delany helped in the negotiations of the current CBS agreement. On the court, Saturday’s games appear to be a great reflection of the close games mixed with underdog flair we’ve seen all tournament. #1 Duke will face #2 West Virginia with the winner expected to cruise to a national championship.
The Duke seniors have seen this team move deeper in the tournament each of the last four years and would love to graduate with a national championship. This is West Virginia’s first Final Four since 1959. Winning the Big East conference tournament was an unexpected surprise for West Virginia based on the perceived strength of the conference this season. With their success in the tournament, the Mountaineers appear to be the only Big East team worthy of their high seeding.
Meanwhile the “other” game is being overlooked because it features two #5 seeds in Michigan State and Butler. Michigan State was in the championship game against UNC last season and while they have not been a dominant team, Coach Tom Izzo’s resume speaks for itself.
Butler has what could be a very formidable home-court advantage playing in Indianapolis. Butler defeated both #1 Syracuse and #2 Kansas State to earn their place in their first Final Four game and have the chance to win a national championship right in front of family, friends, alumni and students. So who wins? Michigan State has been getting a slight edge in predictions this week, but I have underestimated Butler all tournament and will correct that now.
I’m torn between Duke and West Virginia and think it will be a close physical game. I’m going with Butler and Duke with Butler taking it all before a hometown crowd. After all, one of the best parts of the NCAA Tournament is rooting for the underdog. Post your predictions in the comments section below.
PHOTO: Duke players celebrate with the South Regional Championship trophy alongside head coach Mike Krzyzewsi after defeating Baylor in their NCAA South Regional college basketball game in Houston, Texas, March 28, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Stone