HOUSTON -- Welcome to Reliant Stadium, where the most improbable Final Four matchup in NCAA Tournament history will be contested between Butler and Virginia Commonwealth about 80 minutes from now.
It's a shame one of them has to lose. There's been talk that the "real final" is the second game between traditional powers UConn and Kentucky. But I wish Butler and VCU could be playing on opposite sides of the bracket. They would have a genuine chance to win and meet one another for the title Monday night.
This game should be a dandy. It's hard to distinguish between the teams, which have both peaked at tournament time and will be very confident tonight. Butler has won 13 games in a row and has Final Four experience on its side. All of its key players were part of the team that lost to Duke by two points in last year's memorable title game in Indianapolis.
VCU became the first team to win five games to reach this point, having been one of the last at-large teams situated in the First Four games in Dayton. But the Rams have beaten five straight teams from BCS schools: USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas in that order. They've outscored their opponents by a staggering 12 points a game in the NCAAs. That's amazing when you consider the quality of opposition.
Here's the key question: Will VCU-Butler be decided behind the three-point line, or under the backboards?
If it becomes a three-point contest, VCU is in good shape. The Rams have made 30 more threes than their opponents in the tournament. That's a huge difference -- 18 points a game. That's because they've been so good defending the arc. In five games, opponents have shot 23 percent from three-point land against VCU. Kansas shot 2-for-21 in the regional final. Purdue went 8-for-25, Georgetown 5 of 26. It can't be a coincidence.
Butler has shot just 31.7 percent from three in four NCAA games. The Bulldogs are a better shooting team than that. They shot 35.5 percent during the season. Matt Howard, their 6-8 senior forward, has become a threat from long range this season. Howard, who made just five three-pointers in his first three seasons at Butler, is 52 of 122 this year (42.6 percent). There's some talk that Howard has made himself a borderline NBA prospect by expanding his range as a shooter.
VCU is a poor rebounding team. If the Rams do not do a good job on the boards, they could be in trouble. They were 298th in the nation in rebound margin this year, normally a fatal flaw at tournament time. But they've made it to the Final Four despite being outrebounded by four a game in the tournament, which is their average. They cant allow Butler too many second chances, because that can also lead to fouls.
Well, I'm just hoping for a great game, something worthy of these two remarkable teams.
I'll be blogging live from courtside during the game.