It’s a Final Four that few could have predicted.
Yet, don’t think this group of teams — West Virginia, Duke, Michigan State and Butler — doesn’t have star power.
Only West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler and Duke’s Jon Scheyer were on the AP’s top three All-America teams, and both of those were just second team selections.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins sees definite future professionals on all the teams.
“I would think that Duke has quite a few McDonald’s All-Americans and I think Michigan State has some, and certainly Duke has pros,” Huggins said. “Butler and Michigan State have pros and I think we have a couple. I think to advance in this tournament you have got to have those kind of players.”
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils (33-5) will play West Virginia (31-6) in the Final Four on Saturday in Indianapolis, has the lone top seed in the tournament still playing.
Nothing surprises him anymore about how the NCAA tournament plays out.
“As you see it unravel, I think for all of us coaches in college basketball today, no one’s surprised that anybody beats another team,” Krzyzewski said. “There just isn’t the difference that there was, especially like a decade ago, with some of the top, historic programs, and the emerging programs.
“There’s just a lot of good basketball teams right now. You can get beat by a lot of people. I guess that’s what the tournament has shown.”
Definitely. Out of 60 NCAA tournament games, 18 lower seeded teams have won, including fifth-seeded Butler (32-4) and fifth-seeded Michigan State (28-8), which will also play each other Saturday, with the winner taking on West Virginia or Duke for the title on Monday night.
Huggins hopes that is the Mountaineers, a club that has built their current 10-game win streak on the improvements they’ve made on defense.
“I think our length has something to do with it,” Huggins said. “We didn’t get to the ball in the early part of the year, we became way too man conscious and we really didn’t help each other as much as we needed to.
“I think in the last three weeks or month, we have probably gotten a lot better .... We’re not going to score all that many points and our guys want to win so I think they understand we have to do a great job of guarding.”
The other key part of Saturday’s game could be on the boards, where Duke repeatedly got second shots in its regional final win over Baylor. West Virginia can’t let the Blue Devils do that to them tonight.
“I think we have got to rebound the ball, I think what Mike has done with his big guys is terrific, they really rebound the basketball,” said Huggins, who has also been pleased with the improvement his squad has shown on the free throw line. “I think the turning point of the Baylor game was their ability to rebound the ball and then kick it out for open shots, they do a great job of that.”
These clubs last met in the 2008 regional semifinals with West Virginia winning 73-67. Both coaches admitted they would go back and study that film, but much has changed in terms of personnel.
“We’ll review that game just to try and recall it. But for our team, it’s not about, ‘Well, they beat us two years ago’. That’s too long ago,” Krzyzewski said. “This is about the Final Four. It’s who each team is right now.”
Mazzulla played big in that win for the Mountaineers — much like he did in West Virginia’s regional final win over Kentucky — which Krzyzewski recalled, but he didn’t remember a lot about senior Da’Sean Butler, who has been clutch all season for West Virginia.
“I think everybody can see every time we need a basket who ends up with it,” Huggins said. “I think that is team-oriented because he is the guy with the best chance to make it. We struggled to score the other day (against Kentucky) and we were able to run two sets for him and it worked for us.”
Krzyzewski knows about Butler now. So does the college basketball world.
“I can tell you right now from watching Butler throughout the year ... that Butler is one of the best players in the country,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a great player and a clutch player. There’s nobody who hits as many big shots as this kid.
“He loves the moment. Having a guy like that on your team is what every coach would like. Bob does a great job of positioning him properly and getting him the ball. He’s a great, great player.”
Butler, who has made six game-winning shots in the final seconds this season, has gotten acclimated to such a moment, largely because the Mountaineers have been in a lot of close games.
How many? West Virginia has won 14 games by 10 points or less, and four of their six losses have been by single digits. They’re 2-1 in overtime decisions, with wins over Villanova and Seton Hall and a heartbreaking defeat at Pittsburgh that included three extra periods.
“We’ve been in so many close ones that you go back and look at the film and they try to learn and we try to teach them to go through all those situations,” Huggins said. “We have the kind of team that we are going to play close games.
“We’re not going to blow anybody out, we are going to be in a lot of close games.”
Huggins doesn’t expect this one to be any different.
Apparently, neither do the oddsmakers. Duke is a 1 1/2 point favorite against West Virginia in a game that will be played today at about 8:47 p.m., and will televised by CBS.
Butler — a surprising 1-point favorite over Michigan State — will play the Spartans just six miles from its campus in the Final Four opener at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis at 6:07 p.m.
— Contact Brian Woodson
It’s a Final Four that few could have predicted.
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