Monday, March 29, 2010

The Final Four that nobody predicted

Two #5 seeds, Michigan St. and Butler. A #2 seed that should've been a #1, West Virginia. And the #1 that everybody said was the least deserving despite having the easiest road, Duke. No wonder I predicted just one of the four participants (that's somewhat of an accomplishment, considering all the people who didn't have any).

I don't know a single person who had Butler or Michigan St. in the Final Four, but it's hard to deny that these teams earned their spots. Butler showed why they were one of the best defensive teams in the country, forcing 18 turnovers in their upset over Syracuse and shutting down Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen in the first half against Kansas St. Clemente and Pullen finished with 32 combined points on the game, but needed 30 shots to get there.

Michigan St. has the best tournament coach in the country, but didn't have to face a top three seed on their way to Indianapolis. But they beat Northern Iowa who knocked off #1 Kansas and Tennessee who took care of #2 Ohio St. And then the Spartans took care of the Volunteers, one of the more talented teams in a stacked region despite being a #6 seed. Yes, they beat Maryland and Tennessee in the final five seconds, but you have to win games like that in the tournament.

As for West Virginia and Duke, some people may have actually predicted that. Kentucky's lack of experience and three-point shooting came back to haunt them (like I had been saying since January) and an experienced Mountaineer team took advantage. Baylor didn't box out late in the game and gave Duke way too many second-chance opportunities, which proved to be the difference (and the extra points that killed my Baylor +5 bet). If the Bears won, I would've had two of the Final Four right, no small feat this season.

But now the real question is who wins? I do think West Virginia is the best team remaining and a team I had in the title game from the start. Duke was able to get the best of a weak region and didn't have to face a tough opponent until the Elite 8, since a Hummel-less Purdue team barely counts. I'm going to stick with my West Virginia in the title game pick not just because I made it, but because they're a better team than Duke. They just can't expect the Blue Devils to be as pathetic from distance as Kentucky was.

As for the other side, defense wins championships and my guess is that the loss of Kalin Lucas has to catch up with the Spartans sometime. And against a top-10 caliber team (people forget Butler was highly ranked at the season's start) that has great hands and feet on defense, the loss of Lucas at the point might hurt even more. You would think Butler's run has to end soon, but I think they can make it to the final against West Virginia.

Kudos to anybody who has this championship game right (or any combination of it). As much as I love West Virginia, the best team from the country's best conference if you still consider the Big East top dog, I think Butler (not Da'Sean) is on a mission. They are completely healthy, something you can't say about the Mountaineers, and they have enough inside-outside balance to be dangerous on offense. I'm curious to see how they will match up with Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks down low and on the boards, as they haven't yet seen a team with a frontcourt that deep, having dodged Arinze Onuaku in the Syracuse game.

So my thoughts are Butler over West Virginia. Meaning you should probably take Michigan St. and Duke, with Duke winning. Don't mess this one up people!

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