Final Four Preview: Defense takes center stage …
Maybe it’s because the Mountaineers toppled Kentucky in the East Region final. Maybe it’s because the Spartans are down a key player and the Bulldogs are considered a mid-major by most standards. Maybe it’s because Duke is often a polarizing team among fans. Whatever the reason, visitors to Bracketville tabbed West Virginia (44%) as the favorite to cut down the nets in Indianapolis on Monday night. WVU was followed by Duke (32%), Michigan State (16%), and Butler (8%).
The one common denominator among the last four standing – defense. You can’t listen to a commentary and not hear the word defense mentioned. We credited West Virginia’s 1-3-1 zone with disrupting Kentucky’s offense. Duke puts a lot of pressure on the ball and has size around the basket as back-up. Tom Izzo demands that his Michigan State team commit to defense. All Butler has done is hold every one its NCAA opponents to 59 points or less. This in mind … here’s a quick preview of what to expect at Lucas Oil Stadium:
Butler vs. Michigan State
A great matchup of two teams who prefer to play half-court. Safe to say, the game could very well be decided in the 50’s. Most likely, it’ll come down to two or three possessions. The Spartans thrive on rebounding. Butler out-rebounded Kansas State despite a disparity in size. Repeating that task against MSU won’t be easy. It’s not critical for the Bulldogs to outrebound the Spartans, but Butler can’t get destroyed on the offensive glass. Second-chance points will be at a premium for both teams. If Ronald Norad can keep Durrell Summers in check on the perimeter – MSU could have trouble scoring. The other key is Korie Lucious. Butler forces turnovers by clogging passing lanes and playing physical chest-to-chest defense on the perimeter. So who wins? Gut says Michigan State finds a way; heart says Butler earns the right to play for a national championship. The pick? Butler with a last-possession defensive stand.
West Virginia vs. Duke
As you may have noticed in our final 2010 Bracket Projection, West Virginia was the final No. 1 seed, Duke a No. 2 seed. Does that mean West Virginia is favored here? Not necessarily. The Mountaineers – in my opinion – accomplished a tad more than Duke in the regular season, thus the No. 1 seed projection. Once the ball is tipped, however, none of that matters. Both teams excel at offensive rebounding, so that stat-line bears watching. Duke beat Baylor largely because of second-chance points down the stretch. West Virginia gave up 22 offensive boards to Kentucky, but won because the Wildcats missed a lot of shots. Duke has a little more firepower on offense than West Virginia, and it’s hard to imagine the Blue Devils missing as many shots as Kentucky did against the zone. The pick? Duke makes a couple of extra shots late and advances.
Championship: Butler vs. Duke
Classic matchup between a college basketball program on the rise and one that’s been consistently good for decades. Much like Syracuse and Kansas State, Duke has technical advantages at most positions. They also have a Hall-of-Fame coach. But … sometimes none of that matters. Sometimes, it’s about the right team at the right time in the right place. Would there be a more compelling story than Butler winning the national championship in its home city? So I’ll go with Butler to cut down the nets. Enjoy the games. I’ll be in Indy doing some stuff for NBCSports.com. Follow along on Twitter. We’ll have a very early look at the 2011 tournament field on Monday.