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Cinderellas? Beauties sometimes, but this Final Four's a beast

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider

No one loves mid-majors more. I felt cleansed each time after departing Hinkle Fieldhouse on Butler University's campus, left smiling after hearing VCU's band play and was giddy while watching George Mason's improbable march to the Final Four back in 2006.

There's nothing like a glass slipper. We all love Cinderella. She's beautiful, cute and adorable -- all rolled into one. But sometimes enough is enough.

That's where we're at.

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George Mason pulled off the ultimate upset back in 2006 in Washington, D.C., when Jim Larranaga's Patriots, an 11-seed, knocked off UConn and all its pros to advance to the Final Four. It was a wonderful, feel-good story -- until Mason ran up against Joakim Noah, Al Horford & Co. The Patriots were thoroughly overmatched on the sport's grandest stage and were pounded in the semifinals by the eventual national champs.

Butler and Boy Wonder, Brad Stevens, came next. The Bulldogs shocked the world when they came within a Gordon Hayward shot or two of beating Duke for the national championship two years ago and then made an improbable return to the final last year against UConn.

It was a yawner -- and that's being kind.

This year's Big Dance has been void of buzzer-beaters, even memorable moments. Sure, Norfolk State and Lehigh took down a pair of Final Four contenders in Missouri and Duke, but there hasn't been that signature moment yet and we're two weekends into the NCAA tourney.

However, the heavyweights have been summoned to New Orleans this week to make up for what has been a March lacking in Madness.

This is exactly what our sport needed. It doesn't get any better than this. Four teams ranked among the Top 15 in the CBSSports.com preseason poll. The animosity between Kentucky and Louisville fans heightened only by the hatred and jealousy between their respective coaches, John Calipari and Rick Pitino.

These guys despise one another. Sure, they'll phony it up all week and even smile in the pre-game handshake Saturday afternoon, but there's no love lost with these two. There's legitimate disdain, and it won't just stretch from one coaching box to the other. It'll find its way all the way down I-64 from Louisville to Lexington, and well beyond.

Yet the Kentucky-Louisville matchup is actually the undercard on CBS on Saturday night.

The second national semifinal is every bit as intriguing, with an undermanned Kansas team, led by National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson, going up against Ohio State and its own dominating big man, sophomore Jared Sullinger. The two teams played earlier this season at Allen Fieldhouse, with the Jayhawks coming out on top. However, this one will be different. Sullinger sat out the regular-season matchup with a back injury.

The three best big men in the nation will converge in the Big Easy: T-Rob, Sully and Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. New Orleans will also host three of the most rabid, insane fan bases in the country. Kentucky supporters are unrivaled, maybe in any sport at any level. Kansas isn't all that far behind and Louisville fans would take a strong bronze.

Pitino could be elected into the Hall of Fame this week. Kansas coach Bill Self has a national title to his credit and will join Pitino at some point. Calipari is a lightning rod for attention, but there's no peer in terms of assembling talent -- and, by the way, he can coach a little as well. Ohio State coach Thad Matta, hardly a self-promoter, will find a way to sneak under the radar this week, although he's built a power in Columbus and is taking the Buckeyes to the Final Four for the second time in his eight seasons at the helm.

The hype will be intense. There almost certainly will be underhanded verbal shots fired by Calipari and Pitino throughout the week. The state of Kentucky may shut down -- and besides Mardi Gras, there may be no more insane time to walk Bourbon Street than this coming week.

VCU's Shaka Smart is home in Richmond after spurning Illinois. The same is true for Stevens, who will be relaxing in Indianapolis after turning down Illini advances. All those questions about who would be the next George Mason, Butler or VCU this season? We've got our answer. No one.

Cinderella isn't invited to the ball this time -- and that's just fine.


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