Stand up if you picked this Final Four – Butler, Connecticut, Kentucky and Virginia Commonwealth.
Now sit down because you’re embarrassing yourself. Nobody could have seen this quartet, but that doesn’t mean there’s not lessons to learn from each team.
There’s many similarities between mid-majors Butler and VCU, while Kentucky and UConn met in the Maui Invitational title game and took different paths to their Final Four rematch in Houston.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar should examine each team, perhaps steal a nugget or two that may help the Huskies next season.
BUTLER — The Bulldogs and coach Brad Stevens are the bane to almost every coach from a power conference because they’ve made consecutive Final Four appearances with supposedly lesser-caliber players.
Maybe last year’s run to the national championship game was a fluke, but you got to admit Stevens is building a powerhouse in Indianapolis. He’s proving that size doesn’t matter. He relies on a three-guard lineup and five of the eight players in the rotation are guards.
Butler’s starters are 6-11, 6-8, 6-4, 6-3 and 6-0. The tallest reserve who receives significant minutes is 6-7.
Perhaps the key to Butler’s success this season has been Matt Howard, who is a unique power forward. At 6 feet 8, he’s big enough to average 7.7 rebounds per game. He’s gritty and tough beneath the basket and Howard has the ability to step out and make a three-pointer, which opens up Butler’s offense and creates driving lanes for the guards. Howard has drained 122 treys and he shoots 42.6 percent behind the arc.
Washington junior Darnell Gant has improved his jumper and he’s 37.5 on three-pointers. It remains to be seen if he can rebound like Howard.
CONNECTICUT — A dynamic point guard can take you a long way. The UConn Huskies rode Kemba Walker to the Final Four. He averages 23.9 points. The next highest scorer is Jeremy Lamb at 11.1.
Walker has taken 705 field goal attempts and the other four starters have taken 781.
Washington’s Isaiah Thomas is comparable to Walker in the sense that he’s a volume shooter and both players have made clutch game-winning jumpers in a big conference tournament games. It remains to be seen if Thomas can carry his team the way Walker has.
UConn also proves its wise to start and end the season on red-hot winning streaks. The Huskies were unranked when the season began. They won the Maui Invitational and started 10-0. They went 9-9 in the Big East and have won the past nine games.
KENTUCKY — Trust freshmen. Say what you will about Wildcats coach John Calipari’s recruiting efforts, the guy can coach. He motivates his teams as well as anybody in the country and he empowers first-year players.
Freshmen Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doran Lamb are the three leading scorers. Knight and Jones are two of the three players who receive the most minutes.
It’s a scary thing for coaches to trust first-year players. Romar in particular loves seniors and guys who have been in his system for three and four years. That’s not to suggest he won’t give the green light to a freshman because he did it with Thomas and Terrence Ross. He may need to do it again next season with Tony Wroten Jr. and Jernard Jarreau.
VCU — If the Rams have shown us anything its that you don’t need a big front line to advance far in the tournament. VCU starts 7-foot D.J. Haley, but he averages just 1.1 points, 1.6 rebounds and 7.8 minutes. He played five minutes in the Southwest regional win over Kansas.
The Rams play a three- guard lineup, which is something Romar is thinking about doing next season. They rely heavily on 6-9 Jamie Skeen who leads VCU in scoring (15.4) and rebounding (7.4). The Huskies don’t have anyone like him on the roster. At least not yet. Gant is 6-9, but he’d need to make a major leap in the offseason to reach Skeen’s level.
VCU is blessed with three outstanding three-point shooters who shoot 40 percent or better outside the arc. The Huskies have three returners (Scott Suggs, C.J. Wilcox and Abdul Gaddy) who shot at least 40 percent this season.