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Final Four Mania

   by Scott Spreitzer - 03/31/2010

The Madness won't be ending - it will merely be concluding this weekend. And what a photo finish! For underdog lovers, you have banged up Michigan State and Butler (Butler?!) battling it out for the right to play Monday in the title game in Indianapolis. For heavyweight boxing fans, we have the titanic clash between big-name coaches and power frontcourts as Duke and Mike Krzyzewski lock horns with West Virginia and Bob Huggins, a battle of No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.

It's a Final Four where two important guards won't play. Michigan State's star guard Kalin Lucas, the leading scorer and assist man, is out with a serious injury. Also, Michigan State guard Chris Allen is playing, but with a torn ligament. For West Virginia, point guard Darryl Bryant (9 ppg, 3.1 apg) is unlikely to play because of a broken bone in foot two weeks ago. Huggins did not completely rule out Bryant's return to the floor, he did say "if he can't practice, he's not going to play."

Despite these setbacks and depleted depth, the Spartans have been a remarkable story in this tournament. They really haven't done what you might expect: Slow the pace down and try to find a grind-it-out, defensive game. Sure, they did that against Northern Iowa, but they scored 70 in a win over Tennessee and topped Maryland in a shootout, 85-83. They are the cardiac kids, winning the last four games by 1, 7, 2 and 3 points. They don't leave much room for error!

Out of the Horizon League comes Butler, with the longest win streak in the nation (24). Butler is in Indiana, and Lucas Oil Stadium (where the Final Four will be played) is only five miles from the Butler campus. The Bulldogs are a terrific defensive team and have slowed the pace down, on a 3-0 run under the total. In fact, Butler is on a 9-3 run under the total.

You wouldn't expect depleted Michigan State to try and force and uptempo game, but it is something worth considering as no one has been able to beat the No. 5 seeded Bulldogs playing their game. The last time they lost a game, UAB topped them 67-57 the week of Xmas.

While Michigan State's backcourt injuries have gotten most of the focus, understand that forward Delvon Roe (the sixth leading scorer) has a torn meniscus in his right knee. Roe is expected to have surgery on his knee once the Spartans' season is over. Rose shot 1-for-4 with 0 rebounds (though a team leading 3 blocks) the last game, a 70-69 win over Tennessee.

The Horizon League has sent teams to the Sweet Sixteen in four of the past eight years (Butler in 2003, '07 and '10 and Wisconsin-Milwaukee in '05). The league is the only one outside the six power conferences to have won an NCAA Tournament game in each of the past six years.

The late game pits West Virginia and Duke, a pair of team that expected to be here. This is likely to be a slow-down game, as well, as both teams can play the rugged, physical low post style with a slew of big bodies and they excel in half court games. West Virginia has won 10 straight games, and won the Big East Conference Tournament with a 60-58 victory over Georgetown.

When West Virginia last reached the Final Four (1959), a guy names Jerry West was their backcourt star. This team is different, as three big guys up front lead the Mountaineers in scoring with 6-7 senior Da'Sean Butler (17.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg), 6-8, 250-lb soph Kevin Jones (13.6 ppg, 7.2 epg) and 6-9 soph Devin Ebanks (12 ppg, 8.3 rpg). The defense allows 63 ppg and they are 13-0 when holding opponents below 60 points. With those numbers, think the Mountaineers want to go uptempo with old Duke?

Bob Huggins has a 1-3-1 zone that he's been frequently using at the end of games. They have allowed only one team (Kentucky, 66) to score 60 points during its postseason run that includes the Big East tournament. They shot 38%, but held Kentucky to 34% (a miserable 4 of 32 from long range). Kentucky missed all eight threes in the first half and outrebounded West Virginia, 29-13. In the end, Kentucky had a rebound edge 45-34 (22-9 offensive), but the Mountaineers won the only battle that counted: the scoreboard!

West Virginia is on a 9-3 run under the total. One concern is that they were weak at defending the three-pointer (34%), 13th in the Big East, and Duke loves the trey. Also, point guard Darryl Bryant (9 ppg, 3.1 apg) is unlikely to play, as mentioned earlier.

The Duke Blue Devils became the only No. 1 seed to advance and earned their 11th Final Four berth under Mike Krzyzewski. They have won 11 of their last 12 regional finals under Coach K, but haven't won a national title since 2001.

Duke was No. 2 in scoring in the ACC (82 ppg), tops in three-point shooting (41%) and free throws (79.9%). But they can play defense, too, allowing 61 ppg, on a 12-3 run under the total. You need big bodies to throw at West Virginia's great frontcourt, and the Blue Devils have size, talent and depth with 6-8 junior Kyle Singler (17.6 ppg, 7 rpg), 6-10 soph Miles Plumlee (5.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and 7-1, 260-lb senior Brian Zoubek (7.6 rpg).

Against Baylor the last game, the Blue Devils made 11 of 23 3-pointers (48 percent) -- and shot only 11 of 38 from inside the arc. West Virginia is 2-1 SU/ATS as a dog, beating Kentucky the last game, topping Villanova as a +3 dog, but also getting blown out at Purdue (77-62). Whether you like big name programs or prefer to root for the underdog, this weekend's Final Four has everything!

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