Here's a breakdown of the Final Four teams, including why they'll win, why they won't and what could be the X-factor in these games.
DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Why they’ll win: For the Blue Devils, everything starts with Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. It’s rare that they all shoot well in the same game — but if they do, it’s lights out for an opponent. Even when one struggles, the Devils seem to manage. One of the Big Three is always there to pick up the slack. The big development for Duke since January is the presence of center Brian Zoubek along the baseline. The Blue Devils are excellent rebounders, especially on the offensive boards. Second shots are important to Duke and that showed against Baylor.
Why they won’t: It seems the Blue Devils don’t particularly enjoy being forced to play a physical style. It happened again in the regional semifinals when Purdue gave Duke its best shot early. Eventually the Boilermakers didn’t have the depth to knock Duke around, but West Virginia will be the most physical team Duke has seen. And West Virginia can wear shooters down.
X-factor: The Blue Devils have a couple. Lance Thomas has become a real glue guy. Thomas was highly regarding coming out of high school. He never became a key scorer for Duke, but he has accepted his role and a national championship team needs players like Thomas. The other, of course, is coach Mike Krzyzewski. All of that Final Four experience has to help.
Odds of winning it all: 2-1
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS
Why they’ll win: The Mountaineers are loose and confident. They believe in the coaching of Bob Huggins, who has done a terrific job planning and adjusting during games. Huggins will switch defenses just to throw off opponents. But the Mountaineers are at their best when they dig in and play really tough, physical defense in their 1-3-1 zone. They could force Duke into a poor shooting night, which could be the difference. Devin Ebanks is a great defender. Joe Mazzulla has great heart. And Da’Sean Butler is Mr. Clutch. If the game is close, the Butler might do it. Butler is versatile and perhaps the best player still playing.
Why they won’t: This is not a good shooting team. Huggins will admit that. That’s why the 3-point exhibition against Kentucky was extraordinary and unexpected. This is team is loaded with forwards, which is a little strange, but Huggins makes it work. The backcourt leaves a lot to be desired, but that can be concealed with good, physical play and outstanding defense. It’s hard to remember a national champion without a dominant lead guard, however.
X-factor: If point guard Truck Bryant is physically cleared to play, that’s a big lift. It will help them emotionally and it should be a boost to their offense. The Mountaineers beat Kentucky without Bryant, but it’s not something they want to try over an extended amount of time. Another factor is the WVU fan base. These are happy days for the citizens and trip to Indy isn’t too far. The Mountaineers, and Huggins, really seem to enjoy making the fans happy. That can be a powerful incentive.
Odds of winning it all: 4-1
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Why they’ll win: Tom Izzo is thriving with this team. The man can coach -- and it’s really that simple, isn’t it? People wanted to give up on the Spartans the last three or four weeks before the tournament. That’s just not a wise idea while Izzo is coaching. Nobody is better at game preparation. He adjusts to injuries, foul trouble and simply prepares his team for the tournament grind. Izzo knows how to handle every aspect of the Final Four and that makes it easier on his players. With Izzo coaching, the Spartans will always bring toughness, good defense and rebounding.
Why they won’t: There are too many medical reports to worry about. This is one banged up team, another factor at which to marvel since Michigan State has reached the Final Four. The biggest factor is the loss of Kalin Lucas, the Spartans' point guard and best player. His replacement, Korie Lucious, must take care of the ball. Chris Allen (foot) and Delvon Roe (knee) have been playing hurt for a long time. It hasn’t caught up with the Spartans yet, but when does their luck run out?
X-factor: Draymond Green has a good handle and it has been written that he plays like a point center. He certainly has helped the Spartans keep their cool with Lucas out. But the real surprise during the NCAA tournament has been the scoring contribution of Durrell Summers. He was a streaky shooter throughout the season. If Summers stays hot, it makes the Spartans more difficult to defend and that could come in handy against Butler.
Odds of winning it all: 9-1
Why they’ll win: Ever watch the movie "Hoosiers"? That’s the general idea. But the Bulldogs are not a Cinderella team. And they aren’t George Mason in 2006. Butler was a top 12 team in the preseason and all the Dawgs have done is get better, win, get better, and win. Coach Brad Stevens has done terrific job devising a style that emphasizes his players’ strengths. That gives them confidence and they played with extraordinary poise against Syracuse and Kansas State. We knew Butler could run offense. What we learned last week was the Bulldogs' exceptional defense.
Why they won’t: Distractions. It’s a great thing that Butler gets to enjoy this rare Final Four experience with friends and family in Indianapolis. Last year, Michigan residents wanted Michigan State to solve all their problems when the Spartans played in Detroit. But that’s a lot of pressure. Stevens is making his first Final Four trip and that’s tough enough without every cousin and former classmate asking for tickets and other favors. The players should brace for a crazy week -- crazy good, but still crazy.
X-factor: Gordon Hayward is a joy to watch. He is smart, disciplined, skilled, and has all the fundamentals. He’s a guy who can carry a team on his back. But guard Shelvin Mack has been impressive. When he attacks the basket, it puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses. Give Mack credit for helping out on the boards and making smart decisions. He is more important than people realize.
Odds of winning it all: 10-1
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