We have been spoiled this year in our beloved March Madness. Games decided on last-second shots and less than three points have been the norm. Rooting for the little guy now has clout as mid-major Cinderellas move on and with purpose. Witnessing Kansas State defeat Xavier in double overtime reminded fans of why we love this tournament so much. The one and done formula has given birth to some of the greatest matches on college basketball’s biggest stage.
Michigan State (28-8) vs. Butler (32-4). Sat 4/3
Despite losing 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year point guard Kalin Lucos to an Achilles rupture, Korie Lucious has stepped in without disrupting the physical and defensive approach synonymous with Spartan basketball. Junior guard Durrell Summers, who averaged 10.9 points per game (ppg) on the season, has been heating up at the most opportune moments. Over the last three games Summers has compiled totals of 25-39 from the floor, including 14-22 from 3-point range. Senior Raymar Morgon has showcased the dominance in the frontcourt which the Spartans are known for, totaling 30 points and 19 rebounds over the last two games. Does anyone feel a bit of déjà vu? It is probably because it happens to be the tenth anniversary of the “Flintstones” squad that gave Michigan State its second national title.
Believe it or not, the Bulldogs of Butler were ranked in the top ten in 2009-2010 preseason ranking. This trendy upset pick turned perennial power has its roots in experience after returning all of their 2008-2009 squad. Let’s not forget the hometown edge the Bulldogs look to benefit from by playing in Lucas Oil Stadium– only seven miles from Butler University.
Indiana has long been viewed as the cradle of college basketball hoops; the Butler squad features a roster laden with Hoosier talent which means they’re not losing as many recruits to Bloomington these days. Gordon Hayward, a 6-foot-9 inch sophomore guard/forward from Brownsburg, Indiana, leads the Bulldogs averaging 15.2 ppg while hauling an average of 8.3 rebounds per contest.
In a tournament of upsets, I’m going with the underdog, Butler defeats Michigan State 77-67.
West Virginia (31-6) vs. Duke (33-5). Sat 4/3
No. 1 seeded Duke enters the Final Four for the 15th time in school history, 11 under Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils eased through their first three games, winning by an average of 19 points and in the south regional final in Houston, Duke was able to stop a Baylor team that played as fast and hard as any team Duke had previously seen.
What ultimately ended the Bears season was the Blue Devils’ ability to convert second chance points; Duke outrebounded Baylor 43 to 37, including 23 offensive boards that led to 23 points. After a short shooting funk, senior guard Jon Scheyer is back in form, he has contributed 18 and 20 points in the last two games. Junior guard Nolan Smith, who draws comparisons to the hard-nosed style of his late father, former player and coach Derek Smith, is the paradigm of a workhorse. Smith has played all but two minutes of the last three games all while averaging over 21 points. Don’t forget about the six-foot-eight forward Kyle Singler who, although he didn’t make a field goal against Baylor, is still an integral part of the penetrate and pitch offense of Coach K.
The last time the Mountaineers were in the Final Four, Jerry West (yes Jerry West, the NBA silhouette also known as Mr. Clutch) led West Virginia to the 1959 NCAA National Championship game. This year West’s son, Jonnie, will suit up for the Mountaineers in Indianopolis. West Virginia coach and former WVU player Bob Huggins leads the Mountaineers; a successful leader who is known for stretching defenses and getting the most out of his players. Huggins is the fourth active coach to lead two different teams to the Final Four.
West Virginia is holding teams to less than 58 ppg, while keeping opponents field goal percentage at 33.9 and 20.5 percent from 3-point range. Senior forward Da’Sean Butler leads WVU in scoring, averaging 17.4 ppg as well as dishing a team best 117 assists. Sophomore forwards Kevin Jones (7.2 rebounds per game, 13.7 ppg) and Devin Erbanks (8.2 rebounds per game, 12 ppg) provide the length and athleticism required as the Mountaineers expect to man up against Duke, opposed to the 1-3-1 zone used to slow Kentucky. Injured point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant is looking at options that could make him available for action, including the use of a specially fitted shoe; Bryant has missed the previous two games after breaking his right foot in practice.
Of the many intriguing storylines to this game, I will take the Mountaineers to win it all as the West family legacy at WVU continues.