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No shortage of storylines heading into Final Four

by | CBSSports.com
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1. Butler is back. The Bulldogs have done the unthinkable, truly, and made the Final Four in consecutive years. This hasn't happened at a true mid-major program (forget UNLV; those teams were of another genre) since San Francisco. In the 50s. And those teams had Bill Russell, the winningest player in the history of basketball. In many ways, Butler's a real trailblazer.

2. And VCU is joining. "From First to Final Four" is a phrase you'll hear plenty. George Mason proved conversation over final bubble teams on Selection Sunday was worthwhile; VCU only reinforces how critical the final few spots can be.

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3. Has the mid-major wall been completely obliterated? First it was George Mason, and then it was Butler's title-game appearance last year. Now, with VCU and Butler playing each other for the shot to win a national title, have we once and for all blurred the lines? Blown the major/mid-major wall to smithereens? It seems the answer is yes -- but we'll spend the next eight days discussing it.

4. Connecticut's undefeated in 2010-11 tournament play. And that's not just NCAA tournament. Maui. The Big East tournament. The NCAAs. If it's playing in a bracket, Connecticut's not losing. Because of that, the Huskies should be considered the favorite.

5. Kemba Walker ascending among the all-time greats in college basketball. If he wins a national title with this UConn team, it's true. He's already the best Huskie in program history. We're not talking top 20, but top 30? Has to be, right?

6. Worrisome ratings! Oh, the bizarre irony. The NCAA refuses to not expand last year, so it goes to 68 teams. And with that added batch, in its first field of 68, a mid-major team that wouldn't have been part of the field otherwise is going to the Final Four, potentially killing television ratings in the process.

7. These coaches are YOUNG. Yes, we know, we know, we KNOW ALREADY. Shaka Smart (33) and Brad Stevens (34) are younger than Jim Calhoun combined (68). This doesn't mean that much, but it's already the stat du jour.

8. Cheater vs. Cheater. Kentucky's John Calipari has had two Final Fours vacated; you may have heard the smarminess of this one already being in the process of getting taken away. Jim Calhoun's team has already been punished by the NCAA. Deals with the devil made, etc. And these two have a history, going back to Calipari's days at UMass, when he chose to end the series between the Minutemen and the Huskies.

9. Re-seed the Final Four. It's tired, but it's bound to come up plenty this week. Because we've got two powerhouses on one side and two mid-majors on another, a number of writers complain this isn't the way college basketball's ultimate stage should be played out. I hate the idea of re-seeding the Final Four. I hope VCU or Butler wins this thing so it kills off this argument once and for all.

10. Shaka Smart getting paid. This has been a story that's had legs since VCU made little effort of killing off Georgetown in the second round of the tournament. With each win, Smart looks brilliant, and the Rams coach has a price tag that moves farther and farther away from his current school's orbit. Will Missouri go after him? What about N.C. State? Those are the only real schools in play who can afford to pay him. It's no guarantee he'll leave, but at 33, and with this success, Smart has options, options, options. And more options.

Now, let the hype begin and the stories be written. There are more angles and avenues this week than any other Final Four in history.

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