Well, the Final four is set. Lucas Oil Stadium is ready. The sporting world and its media will be descending on Indianapolis next weekend. One team (and their fans) will be waiting for them, the 4200 student body of Butler University. To get to the game, they need only load up for a ten minute bus ride.
Here is my take on the remaining four teams:
After watching them beat a very good, well-coached Kansas State basketball team, it became apparent they could possibly win it all. That doesn't mean they will win it, but they could and that's more than we could say about other small schools that make it this deep in the tourney. They pressure the opposing teams defensively very well and love to control the tempo on offense.
These guys can find more ways to win against a various array of teams, they do not get rattled when they are down, and they are well-adept at practicing patience. One of their players, Gordon Hayworth, won a state high school title with less than a second to go. It was on an off balance prayer shot that would have intimidated most players, but not him.
Their 33 year old coach, Brad Stevens, looks as young as his players. But he handles this team like a seasoned veteran, who had been in this position before. He hasn't, but you'd never know it by watching him. Before he was tapped for this job, he worked in Eli Lilly's marketing department...just another joe trying to make a living in the rat race. Now he's living his dream job.
Like I said, I think these guys have the talent, the discipline, and the drive to win it all. But they must beat two more well-coached and disciplined teams to get the job done. It won't be an easy task, but everywhere they go for the next week they will see "Go Dogs" signs and will feel the karma, from the people of Indy cheering them on.
West Virginia Mountaineers
These guys are very well coached, also. It should come as no surprise that they were able to outplay the less experienced and more impetuous Kentucky squad, anchored by freshmen. But there is no substitute for experience and discipline at this level. Without it, these guys would be at home right now.
They do shoot the three point shot well, but do have their troubles on the FT line. I can never figure that one out.
To have a chance, they will need to make the clutch free throws. They must continue to shoot threes well to force the opponents to come out and guard them. In addition to this, they must use their smothering defense to continue creating turnovers that lead them to score points.
One thing I can say for a certainty, this is the only team from the Big East capable of playing championship basketball this year. I think this was, in part, because of the contract the conference has with ESPN. I think the extra exposure has skewed the overall image of this year's teams, making them look better than they really are.
Michigan State Spartans
Another team with a good coach, one that probably has no business being this far along. If it were not for Coach Izzo, these guys would have been gone in the second round.I didn't get to see much of the game against Tennessee, but I did catch the end. And from what I saw, the Vols had their chances to win the game and just couldn't manage the ball well enough, when it counted most.
Like I said, Izzo is the reason this team is here. They have some good players that play some pretty decent defense. But the heart and soul of this team mostly comes from the guidance of a very good strategist and motivator.
He will need him to get his players to take Butler seriously, if they are to have any chance of moving on. As well coached as Kansas State and Syracuse were, their players did not respect the Bulldogs enough to pour their hearts into it. That is the challenge that Izzo has ahead of him, we'll see if his team listens.
Duke University Blue Devils
What can I say? I respect the Duke program. They have good students, they play hard, and they have talent. But they got a cakewalk in their bracket. Thank the pathetic NCAA committee for that.
They beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff, California, and Purdue (without their best player) to get into the game with Baylor (another team that had an easy path). None of these teams are powerhouses. It usually seems to happen that way, when you play for Coach K.
Don't get me wrong, I respect Coach K as a good coach who runs a squeaky clean program. But not only do his teams get favorable seedings, they usually get benefit of favorable calls when the game is on the line. And I thought this was the case against Baylor. Baylor should have played hard right through it and should not have jacked up so many hurried shots as the game was winding down. But the officiating did stink down the stretch.
I say they will have their hands full against West Virginia come Saturday. If they beat them, I will be forced to concede they are capable of winning it all. But if I were West Virginia, I would come ready to play so hard that the refs could/would not dare attempt to manipulate the outcome. They must take the officials right out of the game. they must play like hell and do not let up the entire 40 minutes.
So here we go, the stage is set. That's my two cents. What do you all think?