Butler’s goal entering the tournament was to find a path to Indianapolis. Now, the Bulldogs will be playing in the Final Four in their backyard. After blowing out UTEP in the opening round, Butler has narrowly escaped its last three games. It needed a late surge to swat away Murray State, another one to knock off top-seeded Syracuse and a third to sneak by Kansas State. In all three of those contests, the Bulldogs held the lead for the majority of the game before allowing the advantage to slip away, only to finish the game off strong and pull out the win. Butler excels at forcing turnovers. Guard Shelvin Mack isn’t afraid to fire away from deep, and forward Gordon Hayward might be the tournament’s best-kept secret.
Yet again, Tom Izzo has taken an unheralded roster to the Final Four, the Spartans’ sixth appearance in the last 12 years. How Michigan State has advanced this far is nearly a mystery. The Spartans lost leading-scorer Kalin Lucas to a torn Achilles tendon in their second-round matchup with Maryland. Reserve guard Korie Lucious nailed a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to eke past the Terrapins, 85-83. In their Elite Eight meeting with Tennessee, Raymar Morgan secured a 70-69 victory with a free throw in the closing seconds, moments after the Volunteers blew an opportunity to snatch a lead by missing a free throw. Michigan State’s four victories in the tournament have come by a combined 13 points. Suffice it to say, the Spartans are battle-tested should they find themselves in another tight battle.
This is West Virginia’s first Final Four appearance since Jerry West led the Mountaineers 51 years ago. The way the Mountaineers win typically isn’t pretty, but Bob Huggins and Co. don’t care. West Virginia hasn’t lost a game since late February, and its most monumental triumph came Sunday over No. 1 Kentucky. In that game, the Mountaineers were scorching from long range, sinking eight 3-pointers — all of their field goals — in the first half, while making the Wildcats misfire on their first 20 attempts from outside. West Virginia plays with grit and toughness, and if the outcome of the contest is in doubt, senior Da’Sean Butler has nailed six game-winning shots this season.
Few expected Duke to be the lone No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four. The Blue Devils’ three-headed monster of Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler combines for better than 53 points each game, but it could be the supporting cast that determines Duke’s fate. Seven-foot senior Brian Zoubek has come alive during the tournament, dominating the boards. If the Devils are hitting from beyond the arc, they are tough to beat. Mike Krzyzewski isn’t the only remaining coach with Final Four experience, but he might be the most seasoned of the bunch.