If you're still trying to wrap your head around the Final Four of VCU, Butler, Kentucky and Connecticut, get in line.
This is like the street-corner sax player collecting a Grammy nomination. It's not that the dude can't play. He can, enough to make the Big Man himself, Clarence Clemons, blush.
It's just that no one outside the neighborhood knows him.
"I think what it does say about college basketball is any very good team from any league can go to the Final Four," VCU coach Shaka Smart said after his 11th-seeded Rams upset top-seeded Kansas 71-61 in the Southwest Regional final here Sunday. "And you don't have to be one of the BCS conference teams. I think over the last 10 or 15 years college basketball, the playing field has evened out a little bit.
"When you have a senior-laden team like we do, you have an opportunity to go make a run like this, because we have as much experience as anybody we're going to play."
Indeed, the Rams' top six players include four seniors and a junior. But as Kansas coach Bill Self learned the hard way, they're as talented and tough as they are seasoned.
Same goes for the Horizon League's Butler, VCU's Final Four opponent Saturday in Houston and last season's tournament runner-up. Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and friends are razor-wire nasty.
"VCU and Butler have good players," Self said. "You can usually tell who can really recruit, what programs do the best jobs recruiting because they're playing with the guys that you look at them when they're juniors and seniors and think, 'How in the world did they get them?'
"And so VCU's program has done that, Butler's program has done that. There's others out there. I think what it does as much as anything, it just puts a spin on the NCAA tournament. It's wild. It's wild … because seeds are so overrated. It's about match-ups. And their players could play for us any day.
"If we played shirts and skins today, you wouldn't have much of a difference on players or how they look. They've got some good looking kids. They got what they deserved today. They certainly outplayed us."
Seeds may be overrated, but they do speak to this tournament's unfathomable conclusion.
With No. 11 VCU, No. 8 Butler, No. 4 Kentucky and No. 3 UConn, this is the first Final Four without a No. 1 or 2. The total of the seeds, 26, shatters the previous high of 22 in 2000, when No. 1 Michigan State, No. 5 Florida and No. 8s North Carolina and Wisconsin advanced.
Even the coaching numbers are mind-bending. UConn's Jim Calhoun, 68, is older than Smart, 33, and Butler's Brad Stevens, 34, combined.
Calhoun, Smart, Stevens and Kentucky's John Calipari navigated their squads through considerable regular-season turmoil.
UConn lost four of five to close the regular season and finish 9-9 in the Big East, tied for ninth place. Kentucky lost five of 10 during one stretch of Southeastern Conference play and needed Brandon Knight's last-second shot to beat Princeton in the NCAA tournament.
Butler lost consecutive games to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Valparaiso and Youngstown State in late January and early February. VCU went 1-4 to close the regular season.
But the Huskies, Wildcats and Bulldogs won their respective conference tournaments. The Rams lost to Old Dominion in the Colonial Athletic Association final and were so uncertain of making the NCAAs that forward Ed Nixon watched the Cartoon Network rather than the selection show.
Now look at them. VCU has four double-digit victories in the tournament. UConn has one, Butler and Kentucky none.
So the Rams aren't just beating folks, they're waxing them, and it's a testament to 3-point shooting and unshakable confidence.
VCU's regular-season high for 3-pointers was 11. Three times in the NCAA tournament, versus Georgetown, Florida State and Kansas, the Rams have made 12.
VCU has hit 53 from beyond the arc during the tournament, the most since Florida's 53 in 2007. The Rams have done it in five games, the Gators did it in six en route to their second consecutive national title. The tournament record for 3-pointers is 60 by Arkansas in 1995, when the defending champs lost the title game to UCLA.
Against Kansas, VCU made 12-of-25 from deep, 9-of-28 from inside the arc. The Jayhawks made 2-of-21 from long-range.
The Rams' confidence was evident Friday night as Smart sat courtside next to me and CAA commissioner Tom Yeager watching Kansas demolish Richmond in the first Southwest semifinal. VCU's semi against Florida State was up next.
"Don't be nervous," Smart told Yeager as he left to join his team in the locker room. "We're gonna win."
So they did Friday and again Sunday.
Following VCU's late-season decline, Smart gathered the Rams before a practice and burned the February calendar. Bet he frames March.Copyright © 2015, CT Now