Final Four Preview
Butler feeling at home at the Final Four
The Bulldogs will make all of a 5 mile trip to play the Michigan St. Spartans in the first game of the Final Four Saturday evening in Indianapolis. Butler (32-4) will be led by sophomore forward, and the West Regional's Most Outstanding Player, Gordon Hayward. Hayward led his Bulldogs to a Sweet Sixteen win over #1 seed Syracuse, scoring 17. He also stepped up in their Elite Eight victory over the #2 seeded Kansas St. Wildcats, dropping 22 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. Now Hayward will need another good showing against for Butler to have it's best shot at making it's first ever National Championship Game.
Hayward won't get them there alone, though, he will have to have some help from fellow sophomore, and 2nd leading scorer Shelvin Mack, a 6'3 guard. Mack's best game of the tournament was in the opening round win over UTEP. He scored 25 that afternoon, hitting 7 of his 9 three point attempts in the 18 point win. Point guard Ronald Nored will provid solid defense, he has averaged 3 steals a game in the tourney, as well as being responsible for getting the ball to Hayward, Mack and others for scoring opportunities.
Coach Brad Stevens is in a place he has never been before. He was an assistant on former Butler coach Todd Lickliter's two Sweet Sixteen teams in 2003 and 2007. But the Final Four is definitely new territory for him. It doesn't seem to have phased him, though, as he has kept his Bulldog squad going right on schedule. Keeping the same routine this week, as he has used throughout the tournament, including practices every morning at 6:30 am. Will Butler be able to overcome their inexperience against a team chock full of Final Four veterans?
Spartans, Izzo part of another Final Four
Final Fours are nothing new for the Michigan St Spartans and head coach Tom Izzo. This will be the 6th Final Four appearance for Izzo at Michigan St since 1999, included in that run is a lone National Championship win in 2000. Many of the current Spartans have championship game experience from last season, which they will call upon to give them an advantage on the court against Butler.
It's an improbable run that the Spartans are on. Star guard Kalin Lucas was lost for the tourney in their 2nd round last second win over Maryland. Coach Izzo will look to senior forward Ramar Morgan and junior guard Durell Summers to lead his squad into battle. Point guard Korie Lucious is playing more minutes in place of Lucas and will be counted on to run the offense and not make too many mistakes that could prove costly.
Second year forward Draymond Green, who has been clutch throughout this tourney and could play a huge role if this one is close down the stretch. One thing is for sure, these Spartans wont be intimidated, they've been here before.
Duke searching for respect
The Blue Devils (33-5), even as a #1 seed, feel like they have not been respected. All people have wanted to talk about is how Duke had not made it to a Final Four since 2004. Well, they are back and are actually the only #1 seed still standing. Kentucky, Kansas & Syracuse have all fallen to the wasteside.
Coach K's Duke team is led by their big 3. Point guard and leading scorer Jon Scheyer, forward Kyle Singler and shooting guard Nolan Smith. All three put up more than 17 points per game. Coach K will need his 7 footer Brian Zoubek to grab rebounds like he has the last 3 games of the tourney (9, 14 & 13).
Dukes opponent in the Final Four, #2 seed West Virginia will be anything but a pushover. The Blue Devils toughest test came in their Elite Eight win over Baylor. The Bears led at halftime, but Duke came on in the 2nd to take charge and cruise to a 7 point win. If Duke can push through and get a win Saturday night, it would make the 7th time Coach K will have made the tourney final at Duke. Would that land him and his team the respect they are looking for? Only time will tell.
West Virginia looking for first title
Coach Bobby Huggins will be leading West Virginia (31-6) into a Final Four battle with Duke, hoping to advance to the first title game appearance by the Mountaineers since 1959. Coach Huggins will be making his second trip to a Final Four, first one with Cincinnati in '92. A win would mean he will appear in his first ever title game.
WVU is led by Mr. Clutch Da'Sean Butler, the 6'7 forward leads the team with 17+ points a game. He scored 18 in the Elite Eight win over Kentucky, his best game of the tourney was against Missouri in the secodn round, when he had 28 points and 8 rebounds. Another scoring outburst from point guard Joe Mazulla, playing in the place of the injured Truck Bryant, like the 17 he put up against UK would go a long way in helping the Mountaineers upend the Blue Devils. Forwards Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones have been the model of consistency in the tourney, both averaging close to 14 a contest. Coach Huggins will look for all 4 to bring their A game to Indianapolis on Saturday night.
Final Four Predictions
Michigan St 75 Butler 68
West Virginia 79 Duke 76