Duke, and to some extent West Virginia, put out a few flames on those NCAA brackets.
If you tried the chalk route this NCAA tournament, it’s notable that the Devils got into the details to save you.
It’s an interesting mix in the Final Four: Butler, Michigan State, Duke and West Virginia.
You can make a good case for either.
One aspect to note about all this is the champion is the team that plays the best and prevails over three weekends, not the course of the season.
West Virginia has been as good as anyone over the long haul this year.
Duke is guided by a veteran of these tournaments, Mike Kryszewski, who knows how to shuttle his personnel and get his team to peak this time of year.
I can’t consider Butler a true Cinderella as it was a No. 5 seed from a respected conference. Butler plays together as well as anyone and is playing from a home crowd only seven miles from its campus. There’s something to be said for the comfort of home.
We’ve learned never to underestimate what Tom Izzo can do with his Michigan State teams. Every year, from whatever seed, it seems the Spartans are within grasp of the title and are always a tough out.
It’s interesting that two teams in the Final Four, Michigan State and West Virginia, lost starting guards in the tournament (normally, a formula for elimination) and still survived.
Looking at the final grouping:
WEST VIRGINIA: I filled out several brackets, none with significant success overall, but I had West Virginia in the Final Four in almost all of them. The Mountaineers are athletic. They are tough, and they play aggressively from start to finish. The Mountaineers have three of the nation’s top rebounders and attack the offense board like a swarum of hornets. Their zone defense is as athletic as Baylor’s but more physical. It’s a team that comes to pound and reflects the relentless nature of its coach, Bob Huggins.
MICHIGAN STATE: Izzo knows how to dance. He’s taken six teams to the Final Four in 12 years. Michigan State has only won one national title but the Spartans hang around. It’s amazing that the Spartans got there as a No. 5 seed and losing two guards. Izzo is creative. He used 6-foot-6, 235-pound Terrence Williams as a point forward in the final minutes with success. The Spartans’ success will likely depend on the shooting and scoring of Durell Summers.
DUKE: The Blue Devils defeated a good Baylor team by rebound savvy. One of the weaknesses of a zone defense, like what was employed by Baylor, is gaps are created on scramble rebounds, and the Duke players found the gaps and kept the ball alive for kickoffs to open perimeter shots. The Blue Devils outrebounded Baylor by seven on the offensive board — and won by seven. It’s a Duke team that has more size than stereotypical Kryszewski teams and the key to a championship could rest on the continued surge of guard Nolan Smith, who has formed a great complement to John Scheyer. The Devils are also dangerous down the stretch because they hit free throws.
BUTLER: It’s a good overall team that plays classic old-school basketball with a modern flair. It also has a coach who could suit out and could be difficult to pick out among the players. The Bulldogs play together brilliantly. The know their roles and do just enough on offense. They defense is disconcerting. They don’t try to manhandle an opponent with defense, but they contest every shot and always seem to be in good defensive position. It’s a solid team playing in its hometown with a real shot at winning it.
I’ll stay with West Virginia for one spot. It’s hard to pick against Duke at this point, but Butler may have been the best team over two weekends so far.
Butler vs. West Virginia for the championship?
If it happens, I’ll have to ponder that more.
One historical note: Butler’s home court, Hinkle Fieldhouse (which is a larger version of Harding University’s Rhodes Fieldhouse), was the site of the 1954 Indiana high school state championships, where Milan upset highly regarded and larger Muncie. That provided the inspiration for the movie, “Hoosiers.”
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)