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Tuesday, March 29, 2011
VCU key to a potential comeback

By Brian Gramling
Special to ESPN.com

Oh my goodness! VCU and Butler have made our Round by Round Pick 'em game quite an adventure, and there are still big decisions left to be made for the final three games of the college basketball season.

Our leaderboard shows the top 49 entries are within seven points, and I imagine that there is no group among us that has already anointed a winner. There are at least 21 points available to be earned, and that number could jump to 38 if VCU can keep its magical run going for two more wins. The potential points remaining are as follows:

5 points for Connecticut/Kentucky winner
10 or 15 points for Butler/VCU winner
6, 12 or 18 points for championship game winner
21-38 total points

Before I break down the two games, let's look at some recent Final Four history that would advise you to choose the better-seeded team for all three games:

• Since the 1998 title game, games with unequal seeds, the better seed is 19-8 (70 percent).
• Seeds of No. 4 or worse are only 1-9 in the Final Four since 1999, when not playing one another.
• In the championship game, only two underdogs have won since 2000 (Syracuse over Kansas in '03 and Kansas over Memphis in '08).

Butler versus VCU
Let's first take a look at the game between Butler and VCU that is worth 10-15 Pick 'em points. The Bulldogs are the slight favorites, likely due to last year's Final Four experience, but VCU actually won its postseason title game last season, the 2010 CBI championship! Both teams lost their best players to the NBA (Larry Sanders for VCU, Gordon Hayward for Butler) but returned seasoned rosters full of upperclassmen.

Both schools were certainly aided by poor shooting from their opponents in the Elite Eight, as Florida shot 3-of-14 from 3-point land against the Bulldogs and Kansas made only 2-of-21 3s versus the Rams. But this wasn't all dumb luck. Butler and VCU contested nearly every one of those shots with their great defensive guards on the perimeter. There is certainly a debate as to which is the better defensive team, but Butler is clearly the superior rebounding team, and Bulldogs senior Matt Howard will be the best big man on the court.

This season these teams played two common opponents, Florida State and Old Dominion. Both VCU and Butler beat FSU despite getting pounded on the boards. The Bulldogs were outrebounded by 13, while the Rams had 15 fewer boards than the Seminoles. VCU was also overmatched on the glass in its three games versus ODU, losing the rebounding edge by an astounding 14.7 per game, but the Bulldogs held a 32-29 advantage on the boards and held ODU to 35.6 percent shooting in their first win of this NCAA tournament.

When I look at the two offenses, the numbers are very similar as both teams average 72 points per game and shoot 44 percent from the field. But breaking down the Elite Eight performances, Butler made 56 percent (15-of-27) of its 2-point field goals, while VCU made a dismal 32 percent (9-of-28) of its 2-pointers. The Rams won't likely stay on fire from downtown like they were against Kansas (12-for-25). I think this game will be a nail-biter, but Butler will prevail in the end. However, if you really need the extra five points, and suspect the people ahead of you in the standings will take the Bulldogs, choosing VCU is a smart, calculated risk.

Connecticut versus Kentucky
The two hottest teams in the country square off in this game, with Kentucky riding a 10-game win streak and UConn winning nine straight games in 19 days. Both teams are playing well beyond their years, especially in terms of defense and turnovers. The Wildcats have five single-digit turnover games in their past 10 contests, while the Huskies have just 29 total turnovers in four NCAA tournament games. UConn has held opponents to 39 percent shooting in the tourney, while Kentucky has held each of its past three tourney opponents below 44 percent, including limiting mighty Ohio State to a woeful 32.8 percent clip.

Of course, Kemba Walker is the best player in this game, but UK has the athletes to keep his numbers to a minimum. Walker did drop 29 points on the Wildcats in Maui in November, but when these schools met last season, Walker had only 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting. This season, the Wildcats are a much better 3-point shooting team at 40 percent, while the Huskies are under 34 percent. Kentucky also has better big men, with Terrence Jones and the emergence of Josh Harrellson, averaging 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds during this tournament. It hasn't been wise to pick against Walker and the Huskies this month, but Kentucky has the edge in overall talent and depth to pull out this victory.

With just one game remaining on Monday night, group leaders will most likely pick the favorite, giving you other contenders even more reason to root for Butler or VCU to pull off the unthinkable and win the national championship. The 15 or 18 points to cap off your Round by Round Pick 'Em game will finish you off in style.

Good luck with your final three picks, and we hope you enjoyed playing our game as much as we did.

Brian Gramling is a fantasy baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com.