West Region, No. 5 seed
Best Player: Gordon Hayward, sophomore guard-forward
X-Factor: Ronald Nored, sophomore guard
By knocking off UTEP, Murray State, Syracuse and Kansas State, Butler is continuing their 24-game winning streak. They haven't lost since December 22nd, and as a result, they will find themselves in a "home game" come their Final Four matchup with Michigan State; the game will be played just a few miles away from the Bulldog's storied Hinkle Fieldhouse at the Lucas Oil Stadium. Hinkle Fieldhouse is the site of the 1954 Indiana State basketball championships, the site where the real-life Hoosiers took place. The Butler players have been joking around in the media days following their Sweet 16 and Elite 8 wins that the classic basketball film has been on repeat all over the campus.
Butler is the the most unlikely of all four teams to advance this far, as many analysts and fans selected the Bulldogs to fall as an upset victim in the opening round to UTEP or in the second round to the Murray State/ Vanderbilt winner. Defying the odds is something Butler has done all season, doing so with their stingy defense. All four teams, UTEP, Murray State, Syracuse and Kansas State ranked in the nation's top 42 as the top scoring teams, averaging at least 76 points per game; Butler has held all of them under 60 total points.
Prior to the tournament, Butler's x-factor would have been Matt Howard. Keeping their lone big man out of foul trouble and on the floor was a must. With the exception of the UTEP contest, Howard has seen limited playing time due to difficulties with fouls. Butler has been able to find success without him on the court with exceptional team defense and an efficient offense. They have been resilient, taking a teams' best shots in the 2nd half, but refused to give in. Eventual defensive stops and clutch buckets gave Butler the win when the final buzzer sounded each time.
Michigan State Spartans
Midwest Region, No. 5 seed
Best Player: Durrell Summers, junior guard
X-Factor: Korie Lucious, sophomore guard
When the brackets were released, there was much discussion over the difficulties lying ahead in the midwest region. The region featured Kansas (the tournament's top overall seed), Ohio State (the Big Ten Tournament champions), Georgetown (the Big East Tournament runner-ups), Maryland (the ACC co-regular season champions), Michigan State (the Big Ten's co-regular season champions) and Tennessee. Not many expected Tom Izzo's Spartans to advance far, but the bracket set up nicely, upset, after upset, Michigan State took on Northern Iowa instead of Kansas and Tennessee instead of Ohio State. Two of the prevalent favorites (Kansas and Ohio State) were eliminated before the Spartans got their chance.
As if being underdogs was not enough, Michigan State lost two-time Big Ten 1st-teammer, Kalin Lucas, to a ruptured Achilles' tendon in the 2nd Round. Three games later, the Spartans are still hanging around, squeaking by on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Maryland and a last-second free-throw to advance past Tennessee in the Elite 8. Even without their best player, Tom Izzo established himself as the greatest NCAA tournament coach in the last decade-plus, appearing in his sixth Final Four in the last 12 years.
In Durrell Summers three-year career, he has never quite been able to put it all together for stretches of time, however, with Lucas out, Summers is shining. In his last three games, he is averaging 22 points with a field goal percentage over 64%, while knocking down 14 3s on 63.6% shooting from behind the arc. With Summers' talent, an experienced squad an Izzo's ability to execute down the stretch, we should never really count Michigan State out.
West Virginia Mountaineers
East Region, No. 2 seed
Best Player: Da'Sean Butler, senior forward
X-Factor: Devin Ebanks, sophomore forward
The Mountaineers winning streak has reached double-digits as WVU has not suffered defeat since mid-February. Much of that has to do with West Virginia's star player, Da'Sean Butler, who has been labeled as the most clutch player in the country and rightly so. In recent memory, no player has been so cool down in the game's final second. Butler has six game-winning shots this season, ranging from a lay-up in traffic to 30+ foot three-pointers. In regular season games against Cleveland State, Marquette, Louisville, Villanova, and Big East Tournament games against Cincinnati and Notre Dame, Butler has knocked down the last shot, leading his team to victory.
There is talk of West Virginia's starting point guard, Darryl "Truck" Bryant returning from injury to play in the Final Four matchup against Duke and never has he been needed so much. Bob Huggins has gone with an all forward lineup several times this season, using his frontcourt's athleticism to punish teams on the glass and score inside, while using their length to contest shooters. Duke has plenty of shooters to test West Virginia, but scrappy junior guard, Joe Mazzulla, played exceptional last game against Kentucky, likely leading to his second straight start. He ended a poor shooting slump to finish with 17 points, but fouled out in the 2nd half. Against Duke's guard-oriented attack, Mazzulla will have to maintain his toughness and aggressiveness, but stay out of foul trouble.
West Virginia may not win in the prettiest of ways, but they find ways to win. They have a deep bench, often playing ten or eleven players, thriving off of relentless defensive and extreme athleticism up front.
Duke Blue Devils
South Region, No. 1 seed
Best Player: Jon Scheyer, senior guard
X-Factor: Brian Zoubek, senior center
Since the 2000 NCAA tournament, only 41% of all top seeded teams have advanced to the Final Four. This year, Duke is the lone top-seeded team remaining in the field, making the 2010 tournament the first since 2004 to only have one No. 1 seed among the final four teams. The past three champions have all been No. 1 seeds, so do the odds favor the Blue Devils against the Big East West Virginia Mountaineers? Or will Duke's NCAA-run end at the hands of a Big East Conference team for the third year in a row?
Duke advanced into the final four in odd fashion; second-leading scorer, Kyle Singler did not record a single made field goal as the Blue Devils slipped by Baylor 78-71. Coach K will need a revitalized Singler if Duke's frontcourt wants to compete with West Virginia's athleticism up front. Although normally Singler normally struggles against bigger, more athletic perimeter players, he is also notorious for bouncing back after a poor performance. In his three single-digit scoring games this season, Singler scored in the double-figures the following game.
Duke's starting guards, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer may be quite the handful for the Mountaineers. Add in Andre Dawkins off the bench and they have three guards with a high basketball IQ and thrive in the pick-and-roll situation. Bob Huggins' defensive principles have his Mountaineers switch all screens, but the shooting ability of Duke's guards may fit right into that plan. Smith, Scheyer and Dawkins can refuse the screen and step-back and shoot, blowing up WVU's defense.