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The Final Four: The Value of Experience

   by Al McMordie - 03/29/2010

This is an interesting Final Four from a handicapping perspective. In many respects, it’s a classic case of experience versus youth. Duke’s top four scorers and rebounders: two seniors, two juniors.

Michigan State, on the other hand, got a tough tourney break when it lost star guard Kalin Lucas, the leading scorer and assist man. Of its remaining top players, that leaves Raymar Morgan (junior), Durrell Summers (junior) and a pair of sophomores in Draymond Green and Delvon Roe. Butler’s top two players, 6-9 Gordon Hayward (15.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and guard Shelvin Mack are both sophomores. Call those teams the surprising kids on the block.

Then there’s West Virginia with Coach Bobby Huggins, one of my all-time favorites. The Mountaineers have been big winners in tournament play, as since 1990 West Virginia is 28-8 ATS after knocking off No. 1 Kentucky this weekend. They have a mixture of veterans and young players, with a powerful, physical frontcourt of three big guys leading in scoring in 6-7 senior Da'Sean Butler (17.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg), 6-8, 250-lb sophomore Kevin Jones (13.6 ppg, 7.2 epg) and 6-9 soph Devin Ebanks (12 ppg, 8.3 rpg).

One of the things I love about this West Virginia team is that it can win in a fast-paced game, or in a slow-down affair. Indeed, recall West Virginia won the Big East Tourney with wins over Cincy (54-51), Notre Dame (53-51) and Georgetown (60-58). And it held its first three Tourney foes to 50, 59, and 56 points. Make no mistake about it, the Mountaineers and Coach Huggins LOVE to control the tempo.

They are the #1 offensive rebounding team in the country, and that works to keep their foes from breaking out offensively. The Wildcats have won and covered their first four games of this Tourney by 100-71, 90-60, 62-45 and 73-66 counts. The defense allowed 59.5 ppg in the Big East (4th) and they are on a 9-3 run under the total. They held up-tempo Notre Dame and Marquette to 62 and 70 points (both under the total).

West Virginia has won 10 straight games, a 12-2 run, and won the Big East Conference Tournament with a 60-58 victory over Georgetown. They are 13-0 when holding opponents below 60 points. Huggins has a 1-3-1 zone that he’s been frequently using at the end of games, and that defense helped the Mountaineers hold off Washington 69-56 as Washington turned the ball over 22 times and shot just 39.3 percent. They have allowed only one team score 60 points during its postseason run, and that includes the Big East tournament.

One weakness: They are weak at defending the three-pointer (34%), 13th in the Big East, something Duke will study some film on. I had Duke against Baylor Sunday because I figured the Bears would struggle against a Duke squad that is clearly the best team left in this tournament. By the numbers, the Dukies not only have the 2nd most efficient offense, but they also excel on defense (ranking 3rd). The Blue Devils held each of their first three tourney foes to under 60 points, and also under 40% FG shooting. And one of those opponents -- California -- ranked #3 in offensive efficiency. Once again, the better defensive teams are advancing.

Over their last 11 games, Duke's turnover margin is +3. Less turnovers equate to more possessions; more possessions means more points. Duke prefers a slower pace, something that West Virginia also likes. The Devils outrebounded Purdue 48-27, and are a +13 in rebounding advantage for the tournament, but the Mountaineers love to play the power game in the low post.

So what would you rather have at this point in the tourney: Health or no distractions? In the case of the Michigan State Spartans, they can’t get either! They’ve already lost starting guard Kalin Lucas for the tournament, their leading scorer. After Sunday's victory over Tennessee, 70-69, Michigan State guard Chris Allen shared a secret about his health he's kept from the media for several days. The sprain he's been talking about in the arch of his right foot is actually a torn ligament.

"It's real bad, for me to even be trying to (play), it's all for my team," Allen said. "It's a slight tear in the ligament of my foot, but it's fine."

And if that isn’t enough, a report surfaced this week that longtime coach Tom Izzo is going to be offered the largest contract in college basketball by Oregon. Thanks for the timing, guys! Kentucky coach John Calipari currently has the largest contract in college basketball at eight years, $31.65 million. Izzo currently makes about $2.5 million a year.

So, it appears we have ‘As the World Turns’ for the 2010 Final Four, one complete with surprise teams, injuries, coaching rumors and only one No. 1 seed left (Duke). And who is the hottest team in the country? Tiny Butler! The Bulldogs take their 24-game winning streak to downtown Indy this weekend, only five miles from the Butler campus. Hang onto your seats, it should be a WILD weekend! And we look to remain Red-Hot, as we were on a 13-3 run thru Monday's action. This Saturday, we have two big plays, including our College Basketball Game of the Year. Don't miss out. Good luck, as always....Al McMordie.

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