INDIANAPOLIS - Fans who love great shooting, free-flowing basketball and overworked scoreboard operators might want to bypass the Final Four this year. Those who like watching teams grind and don’t mind seeing a few bodies flying around — well, Indianapolis is the place for you.
The common theme at this year’s Final Four is hard-nosed, stingy defense.
Butler got here by shutting down three of the nation’s biggest playmakers. Michigan State made it without its leading scorer. West Virginia busted out a 1-3-1 zone trap to shut down its opponents. Duke advanced even though one of its best players shot 0 for 10.
“Probably not,” Spartans guard Raymar Morgan said.
But competitive? If it’s anything like the rest of the tournament, it should be.
Expect baskets to come at a premium and bruises to be in abundance when Michigan State plays Butler and West Virginia faces Duke in the national semifinals Saturday. All four teams have made it on the strength of strong defense and rebounding — and despite the absence of a big-time scoring superstar.
“Our team totally wants to rebound and play defense,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday, when the teams practiced for the first time at cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium. “It’s much different than some Duke teams of the past. But they’ve accepted what they are, which is good, and they’ve tried to become better at who they are.”
Indeed, the thought of Grant Hill or Christian Laettner having an 0-for-10 night and the Blue Devils still winning doesn’t really fit into the typical Duke paradigm.
The Blue Devils (33-5), the only No. 1 seed at this year’s Final Four, won both, thanks largely to a defense anchored by 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek and five more players at 6-8 or taller, including Singler. Duke outrebounded teams 560-443 on the offensive glass this season.
“For this Duke team, it’s about figuring out ways to win,” Singler said. “Sometimes, you just have to change your mindset.”
Fortunately for Duke — maybe unfortunately for those who will watch Saturday’s game — West Virginia can’t shoot it much, either.
The game pairs the Big East’s No. 12 shooting team against No. 8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But West Virginia won its games by an average of nearly 10 points — second in the Big East — and Duke won by 16.2, which was first in the ACC.
The Mountaineers (31-6) came to the stadium Thursday wearing T-shirts that said, “Do What We Do.” Asked what the true message of the shirts was, forward Da’Sean Butler said “we’re not going to beat you shooting a lot of 3s, or shooting in general.”
“It’s not going to be about fast breaking and beating you in transition,” he said. “If we’re doing what we do, it’s playing ’D,’ rebounding, playing a rugged style that no one wants to watch. We usually win when we do those things.”
As the postseason approached, the Mountaineers urged coach Bob Huggins to bring back the 1-3-1 zone trap that his predecessor, John Beilein, used with success.
“We know how we need to play to win,” said Huggins, who has a slightly different take on the T-shirts. “We’ve got to play to our strengths rather than show everyone all the things we can’t do.”
On the other side of the bracket, Morgan of Michigan State said he fully expects a game played in the 50s or 60s. (The over-under in Vegas is 126.)
Michigan State is, as many will recall, a team known to practice in football pads to gear up for the grind of the Big Ten.
CBT: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made it official that he'll be coaching Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and he'll also be with Duke at least that long, too.
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