First off, I want to make sure I extend a big congratulations to Adam Templeton and Kara Finley, who are soon to be married in South Dakota. Along with some former teammates, I am present in SD enjoying the festivities. I couldn’t be happier to see two of my friends, two great people, unite for eternity. I’m ecstatic to be able to share this day with them, and wish them nothing but joy and happiness down the road. Congrats to Adam and Kara! (But a wedding on the first day of the Final Four Temp? How’d you let that one sneak by?)
Back to business. (Well, sort of. Can it be called business if there is absolutely no financial activity? No? Ok then. I’ll try again.)
Here we go again, prediction time. Time for me to try to prove my basketball knowledge (or at least guess right). After a decent 8-4 record coming in, it will be interesting to see how the Final Four plays out.
Game 1 Butler vs Michigan State
To be honest, I’m disappointed that these two teams have to be on the same side of the bracket. I want both these teams to win for different reasons.
Butler is the mid-major team, representing a history of underdogs in the NCAA tournament and basketball players without the most size or talent. But more importantly, this team represents the common man. This is a hard-working team who represents everything that is good about the NCAA. A team filled with scholar-athletes and overachievers who, when put together, can produce a whole greater than the sum of their individual parts. As a basketball fan what more could you ask? Watching Butler play is like watching an instructional video. They are that well coached and they are that good.
Michigan State is my home-town team, boasting mostly Michigan players, and representing the state’s blue-collar work ethic. If you don’t live there, it’s difficult to understand. The state of Michigan (the east side especially) is struggling more than people realize when looking at statistics (After all, who knows what it means to have a 15% unemployment rate statewide, rising above 20% in certain areas? Those are just numbers). But Tom Izzo’s teams show the state that it can succeed.
I often am annoyed with media members overblowing the relationship between team success and the attitude of their host city. But in this case its hard to ignore. Detroit and much of Michigan was built on the premise of assembly-line labor. Workers arrived, put on their hard hats, and got to work, earning each month’s paycheck through. Tom Izzo’s teams compete in much the same way. Izzo prides himself on defense, rebounding, and smart basketball. He doesn’t generally recruit the top-20 players in the country (although he’s gotten a few), he wants the lunch-pail guys. Guys with a chip on their shoulder who are going to work harder than the kid who’s been spoon-fed his whole life. That’s why Izzo recruits so often in Michigan and the surrounding areas; those kids understand the struggle and will do anything to put themselves in a position to succeed.
Now, in saying this, I don’t mean that this doesn’t happen elsewhere. Plenty of coaches recruit players from a disadvantaged upbringing. But Izzo doesn’t go after the bad boys, he recruits the hard-workers. Rarely do MSU athletes (I am referencing the basketball team, not football in this case obviously) find themselves in trouble. Izzo runs a tight ship and deserves all the respect in the world for the job he’s done.
Well, after my two cents on each team that really tells nothing about the game, I guess I better get into some content…
Game 1 represents coaches with similar philosophy. Both teams made it to the Final Four relying on the “ugly” parts of basketball to win (rebounding for MSU and defense for Butler). I’d be surprised, scratch that, I would be shocked if this game reaches 60 points, let alone 70. Neither team is offensive-minded, though they can both score and play very well together.
I think the key to the game will be Butler’s defensive rebounding. MSU is going to have trouble scoring on Butler’s defense despite superior athleticism. But, second chance points could be huge momentum swings in the Spartan’s direction. To get here, Butler had to thwart a similar Kansas State team’s efforts, and did an excellent job.
The most important player for Butler will be Matt Howard (Yes, this is the same Matt Howard that averaged 14 pts, 8 rebs, and 2 blocks in two games against Brent Heemskerk). As an undersized center, a lot of the rebounding will fall on Howard’s hustle, grit, and determination to outsmart the Spartan bigs to the ball. (Oh and remember how I mentioned Howards resemblance to one, Ron Burgundy. Thoughts?)
Hello San Diego
This face? It's me remembering the time I dunked on Brent Heemskerk. Nasty.
Offensively, Butler knows what they will get from Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward, two players who have been outstanding in this tournament. However, they need Howard to step up on this end as well. Howard will have to be that third scoring option, trying to get easy baskets whenever he can with offensive rebounds and low post feeds. (The game’s wildcard will be the location of one Mr. Heemskerk. If Howard can channel his inner self-confidence by feeling Brent’s presence MSU may be in trouble. If Brent’s location in South Dakota hidden amongst Mt. Rushmore is too difficult for Howard’s radar to detect, Howard could be in for a long day. Brent’s presence is key, not some of the time, all the time. And yes, Brent eagerly awaits the day when people we played against are no longer in the NCAA.)
For Michigan State, their keys remain much the same; find a way to share the ball and break down the opponents defense without your starting point guard and best player (Kalin Lucas). Durrell Summers has stepped up, averaging over 20 PPG and knocking down clutch baskets for the Spartans. But in this game, points in the paint become even more important. With their size advantage, look for MSU to establish Raymar Morgan, Draymond Green, and Delvon Roe posting up smaller players. If Butler is forced to double team, Korie Lucious, Chris Allen, and Summers will be able to get open looks.
This game will be a hotly-contested, low scoring affair that goes down to the wire. Neither team will be willing to give an inch and I’m looking forward to the physical play. Slight edge to MSU for their size and athleticism, but I can already tell the basketball gods (and the Indy fans) are going to be upset with me for this pick.
Final score: Butler 56 – MSU 58
Brent’s Prediction: MSU 1 – Butler 0 (Points don’t matter to the big fella. Just results.)
Game 2 West Virginia vs Duke
While the other side of the bracket predicates everything that is good about college basketball, this matchup shows something entirely different.
In West Virginia, you have an easy-to-hate coach (Bob Huggins) notorious for his thug and intimidation tactics. Huggins will beat his team up so they beat you up. He has a history of giving people second and third chances (not a bad thing) while his teams continually are in trouble with authorities (this is more of a reference back to his Cincy days as we haven’t heard much from the Mountaineer squad). West Virginia’s made it this far by defeating their opponents mentally and physically.
Duke and Coach K have the pretty-boy image of college basketball. Though seemingly cool on the court, Coach K has a reputation for belittling players behind closed doors, often barraging them with a shouldn’t-be-made-public vocabulary. His players either love him or hate him. Just like a lot of fans either love Duke, or hate Duke.
If nothing else, West Virginia vs Duke is intriguing. Duke has shown they can play any style, but matching-up with the forward trio of bully Da’Sean Butler, “Stretch-Armstrong” Devin Ebanks, and increasing steady Kevin Jones, is something the Blue Devils haven’t had to do this year. What makes the Moutaineers so intriguing is that their best players can basically all play the same position. They have size, they have strength, and they have heart.
For Duke to win, they are going to have to shoot well. Jon Scheyer (one of the least favorite players of my former teammate Jonathan Cox), Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith will have to shoot the ball well. Against Baylor, The Dukies were fortunate that despite Singler’s nightmare performance, Smith stepped up and had a career game. Duke’s big three will have to combine for 60 points to keep up with West Virginia’s attack, while their role players must continue to do the dirty work.
West Virginia must defend the three-point line in their zone and not allow Duke to get many open looks. The length of the zone is going to have to bother the Blue Devils, otherwise, we could be looking at a high-scoring matchup.
I like West Virginia and their three forwards to carry them to victory
Final: West Virginia 70 – Duke 64
Brent: Duke 1 – WVU 0