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Final Four a byproduct of parity

The Final Four is set and it's a good bet hardly anyone had this field.

So if you picked Butler, West Virginia, Michigan State and Duke in your bracket pool, congratulations.

It's an unexpected Final Four, but should we be surprised at who is headed to Indianapolis?

If you watched college basketball this season you would know that the competition was as balanced as it has been in a long time. That parity manifested itself in the NCAA Tournament, with the more-than-usual number of double-digit seeds and mid-major teams winning games and busting brackets.

What this postseason has proved above all else is there are no superpowers in college basketball. Not this season anyway.

North Carolina last season? Now that was a true powerhouse. The Tar Heels were so strong that winning the national championship seemed to be a mere formality before the tournament even started.

Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse took turns this season stating their case as the game's elite. But each team's supposed greatness proved fraudulent in the NCAA Tournament.

No one is saying Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse were overrated. They were the steadiest of teams during the season and all three deserved their No. 1 tournament seeding.

But even a pretty girl can have warts. Despite their talent, they were teams with flaws. All it took was the right team to expose them.

Kansas, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, was undone in the second round by ninth-seeded Northern Iowa because the Jayhawks' best players didn't play like stars when it was needed most. They played soft against a tough, strong-willed and alleged inferior opponent. If not for some late turnovers, Northern Iowa would have won the game comfortably.

Syracuse could no longer hide its lack of depth in the regional final. The Orange wilted against a Butler team that deciphered the 2-3 zone and used sturdy defense that short-circuited SU's turnover-prone offense.

Kentucky's youth wasn't a factor until Saturday when it ran into a veteran West Virginia squad. It was hardly an upset, though. A lot of people thought the No. 2 Mountaineers should have been a No. 1 seed. The surprise was how well they controlled the game for most of the night.

Duke was the only top seed to reach the Final Four despite its own limitations. But given the wide-open nature of the tournament, it's fitting the Blue Devils made it to Indy. After all, they were considered the No. 1 seed most likely to be eliminated first.

The college game has grown to the point there are so many competitive teams that it will be hard for one to rise so far above the rest the way North Carolina did last season and Florida did in winning back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.

Both teams had something you rarely see in college basketball anymore: players who stuck around four years. The NBA's ridiculous rule that prohibits high school seniors from entering the draft has forced players to use college as a brief stop-over before heading to the pros.

The tidal wave of players leaving college early has allowed teams like Butler, a mid-major in name only, to compete with the big boys because they have older, more mature rosters. West Virginia, Duke and Michigan State also are led by seniors and players who have stuck around at least two or three years.

Such experience is a thing of the past in college basketball, and perhaps so are the days of the dynastic teams.


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