Replacing two-time 1st team All-Big Ten selection, Kalin Lucas, to an injury killed the team. Or so many thought. Thrust into a larger role was Korie Lucious, who responded by knocking down the game-winning 3-pointer against Maryland in the NCAA's 2nd round. He has played significant minutes all season long, but finally started at the point when Lucas suffered an ankle injury near the tail end of Big Ten play. Michigan State responded by promptly losing to Illinois and Purdue. However, with more time with the first unit, Lucious has performed well offensively, averaging 10.3 points in his new role, but his shooting has been woeful, especially from behind the arc. Enter Durrell Summers. Summers is now the go-to man without Lucas on the floor and there is no hotter player in the nation over the past three games than the junior guard. Summers is averaging 22 points, shooting 64.1% from the field and hitting 14 3s (on 63.6% shooting). Also in the mix are Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green, the Spartans' two starting forwards. Morgan, a 6'8" inside-outside presence is the team's 2nd leading scorer and rebounder on the season. Morgan is not always aggressive on the offensive end and does not always look for his shot, which is when Michigan State struggles. He is not only the biggest player in their starting lineup, but their most experienced, so they'll need him to step up even more against Butler. Draymond Green is a vastly undersized big man at 6'6", but is the epitome of a hard-working player. He hustles for every rebound, as it could lead to a put-back on the offensive end or an opportunity to push the ball to a transition score. Aside from leading the team in rebounding despite being the smallest front court player, Green averaged 3.1 assists per game this season. He is always looking for a teammate with a better shot or a better look. Rounding out the starting five is junior guard Chris Allen. What an up-and-down season he is having- going through stretches scoring 20+ points per game, and then not hitting a shot the next game. He sat out most of the Maryland game with a foot injury, but returned to the lineup the next game.
Butler is one of nation's teams that is most reliant upon production from their starting five as they don't give their bench players many minutes. The team's success keys upon sophomore wing, 6'9" Gordon Hayward. He has a distinct size advantage over most perimeter players, using that to his benefit when he shoots from the outside. He is a versatile players who can flat out score in a variety of ways. The Bulldog's 2nd option is a fellow sophomore 6'3" guard Shelvin Mack. Not only have Hayward and Mack been playing together for two years in a Butler uniform, they both donned Team USA jerseys for the U-19 team in 2009. Mack is a solid ball-handler, but can really affect the game with his perimeter shooting. He leads Butler in 3-point makes and 3-point percentage this season, but he does not solely rely on his outside shot; attacking the rim is an integral part of his offensive game. The third member of the Bulldog's starting five is Matt Howard, the lone true post player. Howard was last season's Horizon League Player of the Year after averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds and finishing near the top of the country with his 55.0% field goal shooting. While his production has dipped and he has struggled with foul troubles all season long, Howard can still affect the game. He is above-average free-throw shooter and should give Butler an experienced front court presence for 25+ minutes Saturday. Aside from Howard, their most important player may be Ronald Nored, the 2010 Horizon League Co-Defensive Player of the Year. As Butler's key to winning is clearly their defense, Nored can make the team go and spark the team defense. He helped hold Kansas State's guards in check last game, something Nored takes lots of pride in and will help him come out fired up against Durrell Summers and Michigan State. The last remaining member of Butler's starters is 6'3" senior forward, Willie Veasley. He is undersized, but possess the effort and skill to be an effective player in any game. He is a consistent threat from the perimeter and mid-range, but also possesses the ability to drive by his man and score around the rim. Despite being 6'3", Veasley is one of the team's better rebounders.
Without Kalin Lucas available, Korie Lucious is pushed into the starting lineup, severely limited Tom Izzo's bench. Delvon Roe is the only regular off of the bench. The former high school standout and former starter for the Spartans is a lengthy and athletic 6'8" 4 man. He is a very good offensive rebounder, who can capitalize off of these opportunities with easy put backs. Defensively, his size, length and quickness really allow him to affect the game. He has good instincts and moves his feet well as he picks up blocks, steals and defensive rebounds.
Several Bulldogs can come in and contribute right away. 6'1" guard, Zach Hahn is a deadly 3-point shooter shooter who averages about 16 minutes per contest. He has a quick release and deep range, keeping defenses aware where he is at all times. Another contributor to the Butler backcourt is junior guard Shawn Vanzant. He plays about 15 minutes per game, never looking to force plays, but will shoot the ball from the outside or drive through the lane and get to the foul line. Forward Avery Jukes will come in to spell Matt Howard in times of foul trouble. He is a versatile 6'8" senior, with some inside-outside abilities. He will take and knock down an open perimeter shot, but he normally will not look to do too much offensively. Butler will likely go small if Howard is in foul trouble, pushing Veasley and Hayward to the forward spots and going with a three guard attack.
Michigan State is an outstanding rebounding team, especially on the offensive end. Despite not possessing a single rotation player above 6'8", Michigan State players are constantly in good rebounding position because of their efforts, strength and basketball IQ. They consistently fight for good position, rarely getting pushed around, and truly value the bal. Every possession means one more opportunity to score and one more opportunity the opposing team does not have the chance to score. However, defensively, Butler is a solid rebounding team, using fundamental box outs, driving a player backwards, setting up excellent rebounding position for the Bulldogs. They have several undersized players, but fight for the ball. Butler ranks 14th in the nation in giving up the least amount of offensive rebounds over the course of a game. Consequently, Butler does not crash the offensive glass very hard, limiting their second-chance opportunities. They would prefer to get back on defense, making it difficult for opponents to score in transition. Both teams possess excellent rebounding and defensive fundamentals.
In an expected defensive battle, the game could come down to the few final possessions or even free-throws. This does not favor the Spartans of Michigan State. They rank in the bottom-third of Division I teams in free-throw shooting, 68.1% as a team. As a team, they get to the foul line about 20 times a game, however without Kalin Lucas in the lineup, the team is averaging a few less attempts per game. The main reason could be that Lucious is not the penetrator nor is he the passer Lucas was. He does not get into the lane, generating a foul or dishing off to a big man for a shot attempt. Lucas was averaging nearly 5 free-throw attempts per game, but Lucious attempts about one foul shot every two games. Butler, on the other hand, is one of the country's best foul shooting teams at 75%. They have several players hovering around 80% or better.
Home Court Advantage
Butler has not lost at home in over a year. Their 15-game home win streak dates back to March 10, 2009. Although Lucas Oil Stadium is by no means the stories Hinkle Fieldhouse, it is just seven miles away. In games away from the Fieldhouse, Butler is 17-4 this season, while Michigan State suffered through the rigors of the Big Ten schedule to enter the game 13-8 away from home. Although, Butler should be given much credit for playing the nation's 2nd most difficult non-conference strength of schedule, adequately preparing them for this opportunity.