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Their bumpy roads to the Final Four

John Calipari

John Calipari Credit: Getty Images

This year’s Final Four is historic, regardless of the outcome of the games. The quartet that will assemble in Houston this weekend represents the highest cumulative seed total (26) of all time, and it’s the first time since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 that two schools from outside the major conferences reached the semifinals.

The games should be extremely competitive, too, which would put an exclamation point on a wild tournament.

On TV: VCU vs. Butler, 6 p.m.; Kentucky vs. Connecticut, Sat. 8:45 p.m. CBS

No. 3 Connecticut (30-9)

How it got here: UConn crushed Bucknell by 29 and comfortably beat Big East foe Cincinnati before escaping No. 2 San Diego State and No. 5 Arizona, the latter by two points, in virtual road games played in Anaheim, Calif.

Who would have thought it when ... The Huskies dropped four out of five to fall to 9-9 in the Big East, where they garnered the ninth seed in the conference tournament.

There was hope when ... UConn responded to the rough stretch by winning an unprecedented five games in five days to win the Big East tournament, knocking off four ranked teams in the process.

No. 4 Kentucky (29-8)

How it got here: Kentucky survived Princeton 59-57 and avenged last year’s Elite 8 loss to West Virginia in Round Two. The Wildcats conquered overall No. 1 seed Ohio State 62-60 on another game-winner in the final seconds before knocking off No. 2 North Carolina in the regional final.

Who would have thought it when ... Five of Kentucky’s players left school early and were drafted in the first round of last year’s NBA Draft, leaving John Calipari with a very inexperienced team for this season.

There was hope when ... It became clear that Calipari had assembled another stellar freshmen class, one that helped the Wildcats beat Washington, Notre Dame and Louisville before the calendar turned to 2011.

No. 8 Butler (27-9)

How it got here: The Bulldogs beat Old Dominion by 2 on a buzzer-beater and upset No. 1 Pittsburgh 71-70 in a truly bizarre finish before dominating No. 4 Wisconsin and topping No. 2 Florida in overtime by 3.

Who would have thought it when ... The 2010 NCAA tournament finalists fell to 14-9 this season after dropping three straight in the Horizon League.

There was hope when ... Butler followed up its losing streak by rattling off nine in a row to get hot just before the NCAA tournament.

No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth (28-11)

How it got here: VCU dominated Southern Cal in the First Four, then did the same against No. 3 Georgetown and No. 2 Purdue to reach the Sweet 16. The Rams got past No. 10 Florida State in the final seconds of overtime, 72-71, before stunning No. 1 Kansas.

Who would have thought it when ... VCU lost in the finals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, its fifth loss in its last eight games, leading many to speculate the Rams would not even get an invite to the Big Dance.

There was hope when ...
The Rams hung tough with Tennessee and beat UCLA (both eventual tournament teams) at Madison Square Garden in November.

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