I have a few simple questions to ask.
Would you rather watch a basketball game between two schools that have never won a national men's basketball championship, who have shocked the world by making it to the Final Four, who almost no one predicted would make it this far, who have two thirty-something coaches that have burst into the national spotlight, who have an American dream ending in their sights, a sports story for the ages that people will be talking about for decades to come?
Or would you rather watch a basketball game led by two coaches that have been put on probation for recruiting violations, for cheating, who have programs so full of talented players and who have won so many basketball games that it's really as dull as a stapler to think about them?
The answer is obvious to me. Watch VCU tangle with Butler in the one Final Four game. This is the only worthwhile scene left in men's college basketball. The other game has an unappealing and predictable storyline. Powerhouse program reaches Final Four. Yippee. Who likes cheaters to win? Who wants to watch them play each other? It's like watching Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton on some Reality TV re-run.
Don't get me wrong. The other Final Four game pitting UConn against Kentucky features some good players. And their coaches are accomplished. But where's the intrigue in that? UConn and Kentucky, like North Carolina and Duke, have won plenty of national titles in men's basketball. I've seen that movie before-well beyond enough times.
Give me something else this year that is more genuine. Give America what it wants but gets so infrequently: a story about lesser-rated players rising up and proving to the basketball world that they, too, are talented; that they, too, work hard; that they, too, want to win; that they, too, are sick of the big name programs winning the national title and hearing about all the ESPN Top 10 players who get full scholarships to the top-rated basketball programs.
America at its core is Butler vs. VCU. America has had way too much of UConn and Kentucky. There are some new faces, new guys on all the teams, yes, but the contrast among the coaches in the four games is stark.
Brad Stevens of Butler is a statistical, analytics guru who applies that acumen in ways evidently not widely practiced in coaching basketball. He looks like a high school math teacher. Scoring against his team, however, seems like a mechanical engineering calculus problem. This dude has no recruiting violations. He is the anti-John Calipari. no flamboyance, no slick tongue. He is the anti- flash, all real and substantive and easily likable.
Shaka Smart of VCU is an intellectual as well. Accepted into Harvard and Yale for undergraduate school, he instead took the high road to Kenyon College because he developed a great relationship while being recruited by their coach. This guy snubbed the Ivy League establishment-a rarity these days. Shaka wasn't on the national radar until, figuratively, about five minutes ago. He's fresh, a story waiting to unfold into something greater than he already is. Keep your eyes on him. He's going places.
The "C" men coaching the other teams in that other uninteresting game, Jim Calhoun and John Calipari, have spoken with their actions. They can win gaggles of games, but not without cutting corners. I know their score, what counts to them. No need to watch them or their teams ever again. Except once, next Monday night when either VCU or Butler crushes them in the national title game. I'll watch that. And everyone else should, too.