Posted on: April 3, 2010 12:52 pm
Edited on: April 3, 2010 12:54 pm
Here we are, just hours away from the Final Four. We have seen 61 teams fall off the path to the championship and only four remain. No, Kansas is not one of them. No, Kentucky lost too. Yeah, and Syracuse. It has been crazy. Anyway, here are 10 questions that are on everyone's minds as the 2010 NCAA Tournament winds down...
Will the Blue Devils find revenge?
#7 West Virginia upset #2 Duke 73-67 in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Duke will certainly have vengeance on its mind tonight. All five Duke starters played in that '08 West Region game in Washington D.C. West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler and Joe Mazzulla combined for 21 points in the upset.
Can the Spartans keep rolling without Lucas?
When Kalin Lucas went down with a torn achilles tendon late in the first half of Michigan State's win over Maryland, everyone wrote the Spartans off. Then Korie Lucious shocked us all with a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Terps. The Spartans then moved on to a win over Kansas Northern Iowa and another late miracle to beat Tennessee in the Elite Eight.
Did you know Butler is only 6.02 miles from Lucas Oil Stadium?
And, did you know Hoosiers was filmed at Butler's Hinkle Field House? Did you know that? Of course you did. And, like me, I'm sure you're tired of hearing about it.
Will Darryl "Truck" Bryant return for West Virginia?
The Mountaineers' point guard broke his foot in practice before the Sweet Sixteen and is dying to get back on the court. Bryant is listed as "highly unlikely" which basically means "he definitely won't play but it's the Final Four so everything is a storyline."
Gordon Hayward can't really be that good - can he?
Yes, he can and he is. I know he doesn't pass the looks test but Gordon Hayward is a future NBA pick. The Horizon League Player of the Year averaged just under 16 points on the season and has been even more impressive in the tournament. He scored 22 points in Butler's win over Kansas State and 17 in the win over Syracuse. Hayward's the real deal. (Insert Hoosier's reference)
Does anyone outside of Durham like the Blue Devils?
It certainly doesn't seem like it. Even the Indianapolis Star got in on the hate. No one can really explain why (other than Coach K's facial expressions and the flopping) but it seems that the entire nation can agree on one thing - everyone despises Duke. Everyone.
Hey, did you know Butler is only 6.02 miles from Lucas Oil Stadium?
Oh, you did? Well, it's also where Hoosi... I did? I said that already? I'm sorry. Just making sure you knew that. Carry on.
Can Huggy Bear finally get his ring?
Love him or hate him, Bob Huggins is one of the best to do it and he finally has the chance to win the grand prize The Huggy Bear is in his first Final Four since 1992 and he has his alma mater there for the first time since 1959. It's easy to point out graduation rates, his players' off the court issues, and his classic D.U.I. video with vomit on the driver's side door - but let's not forget that Huggins is a hell of a basketball coach. Add to the fact that he is facing Coach K, and he is finally that guy we can root for. Plus his mafia style tracksuits say, "I want to win, but I'm here to party."
Who will win it all?
Many believe the Duke-West Virginia semifinal game is the national championship game. The Blue Devils and the Mountaineers are undoubtedly the two best teams left and if Dick Vitale had his way, the committee would reseed the Final Four. While it's certainly not impossible for Butler or Michigan to win it all (never doubt Tom Izzo,) whoever advances between Duke and WV will be feeling good heading into the title game.
Is Jennifer Hudson singing "One Shining Moment?"
Yes she is. I don't agree with it, either.
Posted on: April 2, 2010 1:43 pm
Edited on: April 2, 2010 2:08 pm
Tomorrow all eyes will be on Butler as the Bulldogs attempt to be the first true "cinderella" team to ever make the finals of the NCAA Tourney. That's pretty impressive, and you have to hand it to Butler. For several years now they've been creeping around, preparing to make their run; and as the fates would have it, not only are they making their run now, but they're making their run at a time when the championship is perfectly winnable for them.
I agree, it's a great story. How can you not like Butler? It's an extremely likeable program from coaching staff down to the bench players, they've been trying to get over the cusp and into greatness for a few years now, each time punked back down as if they don't belong, and this year they not only offed number two Kansas State, which was no slouch, but also dismissed number one Syracuse. It's no wonder they're the talk of the town.
The problem is, they're playing Michigan State, a team who -- if they hadn't appeared in seven of the last twelve elite eights and six of the last twelve final fours -- would probably qualify to be a cinderella team itself. After all, from not only did the Spartans lose their star player Kalin Lucas in the second round, they also saw injuries to Chris Allen and Delvon Roe. And they have to play Butler practically at home (Butler's campus is a mere six miles from Lucas Oil Stadium).
It's easy to, from afar, call this is a "big guy versus little guy matchup." But the truth is that Michigan State is a bigger underdog, "pull yourselves up by the bootstraps" story in this Tournament than even Butler. After all, Butler is firing on all cylinders, looking solid and fantastic as they took out the aforementioned Syracuse, Kansas State, former belle of the ball Gonzaga and a not-terrible Vanderbilt. Michigan State, on the other hand, has struggled with almost everyone they've played, from New Mexico State to another cinderella team Northern Iowa. Tom Izzo's master strategies have pulled the Spartans out of the fire throughout this tournament, leaving them bruised and hobbled but with as much heart as any team in this tournament.
Mind you, I'm not saying that it's more shocking that a program like Michigan State's is here than Butler's. Michigan State is a perennial tourney team -- and Butler's the new kid, sure. All I'm saying is that tomorrow you're going to hear a lot about Butler. And you're going to hear a lot of people say they're pulling for Butler by insinuating that Michigan State is some sort of juggernaut this season. But the Spartans are far from a steamroller -- they're dusting themselves off and pressing on as much as anyone. Don't let the historical stats fool you -- Michigan State is fueled by energy and heart this year, defying odds and figuring out as they go along just how to pul together enough to get to the next round. I don't know about you, but that sounds like many of the same qualities we look for in a cinderella team. By that rationale, whoever emerges from tomorrow's game should be the rootable team; both have fought tooth and nail to get here and either would be the underdog versus Duke or West Virginia. So root for Butler or don't, either way you're gonna get a team that's earned it in the final game.
Posted on: April 1, 2010 1:16 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2010 4:09 pm
Tom Izzo has called him the "perfect Spartan," a "blue-collar workhorse" and "tough as nails."
Illinois coach Bruce Weber once went off on a rant about him during a post-game press conference, comparing him to Charles Barkley, saying he "loves" him and proclaiming he's "green with envy" that he doesn't have a player like him on his team.
His grandfather called him Day-Day.
Some fans call him "Tragic Johnson."
But his teammates just call him The Dancing Bear.
He's six-foot-six, 235 pound Michigan State forward Draymond Green, and by Monday night you may be calling him one of the 2010 National Champs. Green has stepped up to be an absolutely clutch player, shouting out orders like a general on the floor. Izzo has even compared his leadership to that of Mateen Cleaves.
Don't forget it was Green who famously got the ball to Korie Lucious for Lucious' more-famous shot to beat Maryland. And it was Green who got the ball to Raymar Morgan in the final seconds of the Tennessee game (Morgan's foul shots with 1.8 seconds to go sealed the Vols' fate). In short, Green's the guy to watch out for. He's the heart of this team. He's even been referred to as a "point forward" for the way he's stepped up in injured guard Kalin Lucas' absence.
The sophomore hasn't always been one of Izzo's favorites -- early tales of a freshman Green depict his motormouthing in the locker room frustrated Izzo, who now realizes that quick tongue is worth its weight in gold on the court.
"Every year I've got to have one guy to argue with, and he's my new guy," Izzo has said. "And I love him for it."
If Butler's smart, they won't overlook Green. Because while all eyes are on Morgan and Lucious, Green can make it happen for the Spartans. You can call that whatever you like, but it all amounts to a possible champion in the making.
Posted on: March 31, 2010 2:37 pm
Edited on: March 31, 2010 2:37 pm
As Tom Izzo's crew, once thought to be disabled by guard Kalin Lucas' ruptured tendon, somehow continues to roll along in the NCAA Tournament, it dawns on me that while there are many reviled teams in this country (Kentucky seems particularly oft-hated, as does Duke, Kansas and North Carolina, among others), that it's rare to find a juggernaut of a college basketball team which, by and large, is extremely well-liked. Such would seem to be the odd case of Michigan State. Travel the country and you'll likely rarely hear "Michigan State? I HATE Michigan State." Yet there are reasons to hate them: they're consistently solid performers in regular season play and Big Ten postseason action, and have two NCAA Tourney trophies under their belts. For many sports fans, a good team has infinite hatability; after all, they may beat your team next. But why does Michigan State continue to slip through those cracks? And how has Michigan State emerged this season as one of the pluckiest, loved teams in the Final Four (even if they may be a dark horse)? Let's investigate.
Two words: Izzo, Tom. How can you dislike Tom Izzo? The man dresses like a war-torn Spartan to rile the fans, is loved beyond compare by the student body of Michigan State and can recruit the nose right off your face. But he's also taken a fifth-seeded team with a host of troubles and figured out how to get them to the Final Four. That's impressive. Add in the fact that you will never see a coach as despondent as Izzo after a loss (he's a notorious self-blamer) and the seemingly giddy high he seems to ride after a win, and the classic coach doesn't just seem like a guy you want coaching you on the court but a guy you wouldn't mind hanging out with off-court as well.
Good Kids. You can't not like this Spartan team. After superstar Kalin Lucas lost the rest of his season to a ruptured achilles tendon during an amazing win against Maryland during the second round of the tourney, even the experts thought the season was over. The experts were wrong, thanks to a rally by Lucas' teammates to sally forth without him. Just look at the grin on leader-to-be Korie Lucious' face as he inherits the mantle, witness the infectious elation of Draymond Green or the fistpumping of Raymar Morgan as they work absolutely harder than they've ever had to work before. Izzo is a good recruiter who recruits good kids, and as a result the Spartans are consistently likeable and rootable.
Classy fans. I've known a lot of Michigan State alumni and fans in my day, and I've never had one of them put their team in my face. That's quite impressive. I know, of course, there has to be a segment of over-rabid Spartan fans, but by my own microcosm I've yet to meet a State fan who wanted to convert me or compare accomplishments. Even the Izzone, for all its wildness, is amazingly polite and focused in its madness. Maybe it's that same midwestern sensibility that makes a city like Chicago so much more palatable than a New York, but I just don't have any beef with the Spartans. And if they have any beef with me, they're polite about it.
Has Michigan State garnered enough good karma to take them all the way? Will they continue to fuel themselves on good old-fashioned gumption and ingenuity? Will Izzo, that master commander, be able to continue creating strategy minute to minute until his crew is at the top of the heap? One thing's for sure: Michigan State is in this thing, and they've earned it. Where they go from here is their own decision.
Posted on: March 31, 2010 2:29 pm
Edited on: March 31, 2010 3:07 pm
I am trying to talk myself into this Final Four, I really am. I look at the field and see the loveable underdog (Butler), the mighty unlikeable power (Duke), the coach looking to break through (West Virginia) and the consistent, “How Do They Do It?” performer (Michigan State). In theory that looks like a good bunch and would seem like a group I could rally behind. But I am just not feeling it and I must admit I am a bit depressed.
See this was to be the Tournament when the stars came out and we got to see the best of the best . The Midwest Region had Kansas and its pack of old school veterans and new school talent. I was certain they would win their second title in three years and we would all have to accept that Bill Self is more “NCAA Champion” than “loser to Bradley and Bucknell.” And if Kansas fell, it had to be Ohio State and Evan Turner, right? He is so good AND he wears braces, a combination that almost surely is deserving of a Final Four.
And then in the West, old Jimmy Boeheim was going to be there, that much was certain. Wesley Johnson was going to do his thing on a national stage and we were all going to be able to see the power of a perfectly executed zone. And if for some strange reason, the Orange fell, well then Kansas State and their manic coach would be there to entertain and potentially scare us. Throw in the fact they have a player with an Amish beard, and the excitement would have been at a fever pitch.
Then there was Kentucky. You KNEW Kentucky was going to be there . It was certain. John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, John Calipari….it was a murderer’s row of storylines. The Cats were the most talented team in America and had at least four future NBA Lottery picks on the roster. There is no way that team doesn’t make the Final Four and dazzle us with at least a few amazing fast breaks and gravity-defying dunks. There was no way that group could lose, could they?
Well they all lost, and some of them in brutal fashion. And now we are left with four teams, none of which is really good enough to be the National Champion. Yeah I said it. None of these teams are very good. In fact, if I were to have ranked the teams in terms of national championship worthiness going into the Tournament, only two of the teams in the Final Four would have even been in the Top 10, and West Virginia would have been highest at #5. Now one of them will join Arizona in 1997 and Florida in 2006 as the only champions of the 1990s that were not among the four best teams in the country (for the record, my four this year were Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Ohio State…in that order).
Look I love the scrappy underdog. And if Butler becomes the most unlikely champ in NCAA history, then I will cheer. But we know that will not happen. Instead, we will likely either see a flawed West Virginia team or a mediocre Duke bunch with a gift-wrapped path to the Final Four, cut down the nets. And that is fine I guess, but it doesn’t appeal to my sensibilities. I either want to see greatness rewarded, or true “out of nowhere” underdogs capture the nation and produce a champion to remember for eternity. None of these teams fit that bill.
So I guess I will root for Michigan State. Tom Izzo has 6 Final Fours in 12 years and that record is beyond impressive. And even though this bunch is one of the worst teams of the group, he is a great coach who deserves the second title that elevates him into the discussion as of the all-time best to roam the sidelines. While this particular group doesn’t really deserve the title, he does for his overall resume of work. So I will take Izzo and root for Sparty this weekend. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Posted on: March 30, 2010 5:32 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2010 5:33 pm
For the four remaining teams in the NCAA tournament, the Final Four weekend is a battle of skill, coaching, execution, heart, intensity, and determination for the grand prize of being named college basketball's top team. 61 teams have already fallen on this grueling journey. It is an opportunity of a lifetime and only the strongest will survive.
But for millions of people outside of the four remaining teams, the Final Four is one of the biggest gambling weekends of the year and even more is at stake. Jobs will be lost, marriages will end, family heirlooms will be pawned, and households and legs could be broken all over just a few bad gambling decisions. For some, it is a life changing opportunity and only the strong - well, lucky - will drive off in that new car, pay this month's rent, or put their children through community college.
Will you be one of the successful or one of the poor?
I can help you through your gambling decision process. And by help you, I mean do not take anything I say seriously. I will not be held responsible for your severed right index finger - bookies and cigar cutters are a dangerous duo. I will, however, suggest that you see a doctor about that. You're losing a lot of blood. On to the gambling...
ODDS TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Michigan State (+450)
West Virginia (+225)
BUTLER vs. MICHIGAN STATE, Saturday 6:07 PM
Line: Butler (-1.5)
Ken Pom Predicts: Butler 64-62
--- Gordon Hayward Total Points: O/U 21
--- Durrell Summers Points + Rebs: O/U 23.5
--- Butler drove six miles to Indy references: O/U 193.5
--- Ivan Brothers commercials: O/U 97
--- Where the hell is Mateen Cleaves?: Turkey (-120), France (-300), Detroit, owner of All Varsity Entertainment Records (+700)
"OBM" PREDICTION: Michigan State +1.5 - Never bet against Tom Izzo. Ever.
DUKE VS. WEST VIRGINIA, Saturday 8:47 PM
Line: Duke (-3)
Ken Pom Predicts: Duke 67-62
--- Da'Sean Butler Total Points: O/U 17.5
--- Jon Scheyer Points + Assists: O/U 22
--- Bob Huggins outfit: Sweatsuit (-800), Mock Turtleneck (-600), Fully Nude (+1500)
--- Mickie Krzyzewski TV sightings: O/U 11.5
--- Natty Lights consumed by Kevin Pittsnogle: O/U 24
--- Couches burned in Morgantown: O/U .5
"OBM" PREDICTION: West Virginia +3 - It's the year of the Huggy Bear.
Posted on: March 30, 2010 1:20 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2010 2:47 pm
And then there were four. Four teams from a field of sixty-four (sixty-five counting Winthrop), each having braved the bullets meant for them and emerged a contender for the national championship. Over the past two weeks we've grown to know and follow teams we may have, in some cases, had precious little exposure to before (I'm looking at you, Saint Mary's) or grown more respect toward (nice going, Cornell). But the four that matter now are the Final Four. It's their party from here on out, so let's get to know 'em.
"The Resourceful One"
Michigan State is that friend who saves one-fourth of a meatball sub to eat two hours from now. He's the one who can figure out how to get beer. He's the guy who always has a plan -- and he can get himself out of a squeeze simply by being practical. When things get tough, count on Michigan State to come through just by being smart -- like that time he figured out how to get front row Widespread Panic tickets the day before the show by calling his cousin whose friend was a college radio DJ who knew the band's promoter. He's good people to know and always cool under pressure.
Why Michigan State will win: They'll size up the situation, tweak accordingly, and find a way to get things done.
Why Michigan State won't win: By overthinking things, sometimes the big picture gets lost. Plus, there's that ruptured achilles tendon.
"The Pretty Boy"
Duke's got it all. He's cool. He's charming. He's got great parents. He's been raised well. And he's all the ladies can talk about. Everything seems to go well for him, especially when things look bleak. He's just that kind of guy. His perfectly coiffed hair and dashing good looks make him a favorite of many, though when things aren't going well for him he's quick to complain about it. Good thing, then, that things perpetually seem to go his way.
Why Duke will win: They're arguably the strongest team left, and they haven't even really had a scare yet. They're a tournament team and have a huge shot at the title.
Why Duke won't win: When the cops bust the party, Duke calls dad and then tells on everybody.
"The Quiet Type"
No one ever expects Butler to show up. He always says he's going to, but at the last second goes home instead. Everyone likes Butler, but no one really knows him all that well. He doesn't normally run with this kind of crowd, but fits in well. He keeps a low profile, but get him going and he's the life of the party. He's fun while he's there, but you never know how long he's going to stay, and he's never been to a party this big before. He's either going to flame out with the cool kids or make a lot of new friends.
Why Butler will win: As Butler stays modest and says very little, few realize how much they're capable of accomplishing.
Why Butler won't win: More experienced partiers could drink them under the table.
West Virginia told you it would be here, but you didn't think that slacker could get its act together and get motivated. Now you're eating your words, because West Virginia -- who you really only know in passing because he hangs out in auto shop class all day -- is showing up and he's ready to par-tay. He's a wildchild: funny, unpredictable and probably going to get into a fight before the night's over. Having him at the party makes everyone a little nervous, but he seems alright. For now.
Why West Virginia will win: Things seem to be aligned for them and they're stone cold rollin'.
Why West Virginia won't win: They could go nuts, flame out and lose it. They also won't stop requesting John Denver songs.
Posted on: March 28, 2010 5:08 pm
Edited on: March 28, 2010 5:09 pm
While you spent the last two hours changing lightbulbs and cleaning out your gutters in preparation for spring because you promised your wife last weekend that you'd do all that stuff this weekend, in St. Louis Bruce Pearl's Volunteers and Tom Izzo's Spartans beat the tar out of each other in a back-and-forth that would end with a 70-69 Michigan State victory and propel them to yet another Final Four. Tied at 69, Tennessee guard J.P. Prince would mar an otherwise stellar, hustling performance by fouling senior forward Raymar Morgan, offering Morgan the point he'd need to send the Spartans to Indianapolis next weekend. Prince had 12 points on the day and teammate Wayne Chism chimed in with another 13. You can't say the Vols weren't competitive. There wasn't even a hunch as to who was going to come out of this one -- it was a dead heat. And it could have gone either way.
The constants we all expected were there. Tennessee's speed and lethal attacks. Michigan State's determination. Tom Izzo's ability to adapt. Bruce Pearl's gallons and gallons of sweat.
The way it did go in the end, however, was the way Michigan State wanted it to go. Once again the team pulled together in Kalin Lucas' absence (these guys are starting to supersede the Kalin Lucas story with their own amazing resilience) to piece together a team effort that saw Durrell Summers with 21, Korie Lucious with 8 and both Morgan and Draymond Green marked down for 13 apiece. Tennessee fought them tooth and nail, but the Spartans earned this one and continued to defy those who said they couldn't perform without Lucas.
So the Volunteers head home to Knoxville after their fiercest battle toward the Final Four in history and the Spartans prepare to take a short road trip south to face Butler in their home town, two teams which -- from a tournament history standpoint -- couldn't be more diverse. But yet, they're both five seeds, and they're both fighting for their lives.
See you in the Final Four, fellas. Get some rest. You're going to need it.