NCAA hoops: A look at the matchups in the Final Four
JIM O'CONNELL,AP Basketball Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — A look at Saturday's games at the Final Four:
MICHIGAN STATE (28-8) VS. BUTLER (32-4)
ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR
No. 5 Michigan State beat No. 12 New Mexico State 70-67; No. 4 Maryland 85-83; No. 9 Northern Iowa 59-52; No. 6 Tennessee 70-69.
The best of the Spartans will be watching from the bench. Kalin Lucas, the 2008-09 Big Ten Player of the Year and Michigan State's leading scorer (15.2) and playmaker (3.9 assists) ruptured an Achilles' tendon in the win over Maryland. The focus now turns to Raymar Morgan, who has averaged 15.6 points over the last seven games, and Korie Lucious, who has taken over the point guard duties and managed to hit the game-winning 3-pointer against Maryland.
Tom Izzo has become this generation's Final Four coach with his sixth appearance in 12 years — just the fourth school to ever accomplish that — and second straight. His teams are known for defense and rebounding, and this one also has shown the ability to handle a major injury. He is the winningest coach in school history (364) and is second among Big Ten coaches with at least 10 years' service in winning percentage (.696) behind former Indiana coach Bob Knight (.700).
The Spartans just know how to win. Their total margin of victory of 13 points is the lowest of any team to reach the Final Four since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They have improved in almost every key statistic from the regular season: 3-pointers 7.5 per game from 4.8; free throws 73.6 percent from 68.1, 3-point percentage 41.1 from 33.3. Michigan State leads the country in rebound margin (8.7) and it is 23-4 when outrebounding an opponent.
No. 5 Butler beat No. 12 UTEP 77-59; No. 13 Murray State 54-52; No. 1 Syracuse 63-59; No. 2 Kansas State 63-56.
The biggest of the starters is 6-foot-9 Gordon Hayward. A versatile player who fits the swingman mold nicely, he leads the Bulldogs in scoring (15.5) and rebounding (8.2), and he was third in assists. Hayward was chosen the Most Outstanding Player of the West Regional after getting 22 points in nine rebounds in the win over Kansas State and is shooting 80.6 percent from the free throw line for the tournament (25 of 31).
Brad Stevens is one of the youngest coaches in Final Four history, and the 33-year-old has the most wins (88) after three seasons. He has led Butler to its only two 30-win seasons, and the Bulldogs are on the longest winning streak in Division I at 24 games. Stevens started his career as an assistant at Butler. Since he joined the staff Butler has had its top six season win totals.
Butler has to handle playing "home" games in the Final Four considering its campus is 5.6 miles from Lucas Oil Stadium. The Bulldogs are the only newcomer to the Final Four and also represent the mid-majors, even though Butler was ranked just outside the top 10 all season. The one constant is defense — no team scored 60 points against the Bulldogs in the tournament.
They won't have to change the bulbs in the scoreboard with defense the major focus of both teams. Michigan State must keep its run going without Lucas, and Butler must focus on the court rather than all the local hoopla. Butler has to make sure it stays on the boards with Michigan State, something it struggled with against Murray State and Syracuse before getting 41 to Kansas State's 29.
Michigan State has the Final Four pedigree, and Butler has the domecourt advantage. Lucas' injury has to catch up with the Spartans sooner or later. Butler 57-53.
DUKE (33-5) VS. WEST VIRGINIA (31-6)
ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR
No. 1 Duke beat No. 16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 73-44; No. 8 California 68-53; No. 4 Purdue 70-57; No. 3 Baylor 78-71.
Duke has had a three-headed "S'' monster leading the way all season, and Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer have kept it up during the tournament. Smith is averaging 18.5 points, including a career-high 29 points in the regional final. Scheyer, who is averaging 18.2 points and has an almost 3:1 assist-turnover ratio, is the man running the offense. Singler, who struggled against Baylor, going 0 of 10 from the field, averages 17.6 points.
Mike Krzyzewski tied Dean Smith with his 11th Final Four appearance, one behind all-time leader John Wooden. You know you are a successful NCAA tournament coach when people call six years without a Final Four appearance a drought. His 75 NCAA tournament wins are 10 more than runner-up Smith. Another national championship would be his fourth, tying him with Adolph Rupp for second place behind John Wooden's 10.
The Blue Devils have one thing no other team in this Final Four has: a true center. Seven-foot-1 Brian Zoubek has become a force in the middle over the last 14 games, averaging 6.6 points and 10.1 rebounds in that span. He has been the reason Duke has outrebounded opponents by 8.3 over the last eight games and the 6.5 advantage over the season is the second-best in Krzyzewski's 30 seasons.
ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR
No. 2 West Virginia beat No. 15 Morgan State 77-50; No. 10 Missouri 68-59; No. 11 Washington 69-56; No. 1 Kentucky 73-66.
Da'Sean Butler is a lot more than a team-leading 17.4 points and 3.2 assists while grabbing 6.3 rebounds. The senior swingman has hit six game-winning shots this season including two in the Big East tournament, the second of which was a jumper with 4 seconds left in the championship game against Georgetown. No player has been a part of more wins that Butler's 107.
Bob Huggins returned to his alma mater with the Final Four as his goal, and the Mountaineers are back in for the first time since 1959. Huggins took Cincinnati to the Final Four in 1992. His 670 wins are fourth among active Division I coaches. He'll be easy to pick out on the sideline since he's the only coach wearing a sweat suit.
The Mountaineers were able to survive the loss of starting point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant to a broken foot before the regional semifinals. Joe Mazzulla stepped in and did such a great job that he was chosen the Most Outstanding Player of the East Regional. Defense is the key for a Huggins team, and nothing was more impressive than the 1-3-1 zone holding Kentucky to 4-of-32 shooting from 3-point range.
Both teams play excellent defense and both are solid on the boards, although Duke is a bigger team. Bryant's absence could hurt West Virginia in the depth department. Even though Duke has been a regular in the Final Four over the years, none of the current players have been here.
As good as West Virginia's defense was against Kentucky, stopping a team with three perimeter players who can score is a whole other deal. Figure two of the "Ss" will come through in a 64-61 Duke victory.