Final Four Primer

A combination picture shows Butler Bulldogs head coach Brad Stevens (L) and Virginia Commonwealth Rams head coach Shaka Smart during their respective practice sessions in Houston, Texas, April 1, 2011. Their teams will meet in the first of two NCAA Final Four college basketball games on April 2. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Butler and VCU tip things off today at 6 PM ET, so while you wait, here is some opinion from around the internets. Also, be sure to check out our quick and dirty Final Four preview.

Carson Cunningham, Real Clear Sports: In Indiana we play basketball. It sounds cliché, but it’s true and you can try to quantify this. During Butler’s most recent tournament wins over Wisconsin and Florida, for instance, you could’ve noted that Indiana has about three times as many Division I basketball players as Wisconsin, even though the two states’ populations are nearly identical, or that Indiana colleges have produced 14 Final Four teams compared to the state of Florida’s 5, even though Florida has about three times as many people as Indiana. But basketball runs deeper in our veins than stats like this. When we watch Butler play basketball we’re reminded of the time we spent with our dads when we were 5 years old and of what our coaches taught us when we were 6 and 7. Whether it’s watching a dribble-drive to set up a backdoor, a sweet stroke from deep that draws nothing but net, or a lefty hook that represents thousands of hours of practice from Butler’s academic All-American Matt Howard, we can relate. Growing up, we practiced the same things for hours.

Gregg Doyel, CBS Sports: For VCU to continue its rampage toward the national championship, the Rams will have to do exactly what they’ve been doing. But their toughest test of the tournament — tougher even than what might await Monday — will be Butler. Because what VCU has done for five games is impose its will on the opponent. And nobody imposes squat on Butler. Butler is impervious to pressure, impervious to stress, impervious to whatever the other team is trying to do to it. Which means this game won’t just be a test of skill. It will be a test of will.

Pat Forde, ESPN: In its current 13-game winning streak, the Bulldogs’ games have averaged 62.2 possessions. That makes the contrast Saturday against Virginia Commonwealth rather stark. VCU has excelled this NCAA tournament at speeding up opponents, with its previous three games averaging 69.7 possessions. The Rams’ “Havoc” style was especially effective in the Southwest Regional final against Kansas, which was harassed into eight first-half turnovers and gave up a lot of open shots in transition as the Rams raced to a 14-point halftime lead. So the push and pull of pace will be paramount Saturday when the two teams hook up in the “Believe It or Not!” national semifinal.

Richard Justice, Houston Chronicle:
In the most delicious matchup of this Final Four, Liggins today almost certainly will be asked to slow down the best player in the NCAA Tournament. Connecticut junior Kemba Walker is generously listed at 6-1, and that’s irrelevant anyway. When you watch him play, when you see him work for the ball, wear down defenders and create opportunities both for himself and others, his height becomes irrelevant. No matter what else Walker accomplishes in basketball — and he’s almost certain to be a top-10 pick in this summer’s NBA draft – it may not be more impressive than what’s he done these last few weeks, putting a team on his back and taking it from the middle of the pack in the Big East to the threshold of a national championship.

Eamonn Brennan, ESPN: Jeremy Lamb has become a star. There’s no getting around it: This is Kemba Walker’s team. In many ways, from Maui to Manhattan to Anaheim to Houston, this has been his season. But UConn’s presence in the Final Four has just as much to do with Lamb’s emergence as a bona-fide star in his own right. The UConn forward has gone from a lanky, raw freshman to a versatile, comprehensive scorer. He’s made 11 of his 15 3-pointers in UConn’s four NCAA tournament wins, and he’s complemented that outside attack with an array of drives, pull-ups and pretty mid-range floaters. Can Lamb keep this up? If he does, he makes UConn’s Walker-led attack even more dangerous, and that’s bad news for the other three members of this unlikely Final Four.

Ken Davis, NBC Sports:
One day before Kentucky defeated North Carolina in the East Regional championship game, Kentucky coach John Calipari shared an interview podium with his starters. Calipari calls Knight one of the most conscientious, hard-working players he has ever been around. So, when he was asked to describe how Knight has the confidence to take the game-winning shots he has become known for in the NCAA Tournament, Calipari gave an answer that revealed much more about his young star. “He will be in the gym at 11 at night,” Calipari said. “Then he will be in the training room icing his knees or his legs at 6 in the morning. Academically, he got mad the other day when he got a 91. What class was it that you got that 91 on a test?” “Sociology,” Knight answered. “Still got an A, but he is mad,” Calipari said. “He’s conscientious. So he feels that he will make that shot. And more importantly, why I put the ball in his hands, he is not afraid to miss it. If you really want to be that guy, you have no fear. ‘If I miss this shot, I miss it. I am not afraid to miss this shot. Life will not end.’ I feel comfortable putting it in his hands because I know his work ethic.”

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