Michigan St. vs. Butler Final four will 'D' up, keep scoring down
Michigan State: M*A*S*H unit finally meshed
Most in Indiana have become Butler backers
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.
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.
The biggest of the starters is 6-foot-9 Gordon Hayward. A versatile player who fits the swingman mold, 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).
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.