Michigan State vs. Butler: Clash of the 5 seeds


300 spartans

By Paul M. Banks

In the first national semifinal game, last year’s “home team” in the Final Four takes on this year’s “home team” in the Final Four. Although to be fair, Butler will have an advantage of being much closer to a true “home-court advantage” than State did in Detroit.

The Bulldogs are no Bull

Both Butler’s coach and star player look REALLY young for their age. Brad Stevens is 33, but probably gets carded every time he enters a bar. Sophomore forward Gordon Hayward, the reigning Horizon League player of the year, looks like he’s 12.

This team is no “Cinder-fella,” (don’t  listen to Sportscenter!) and they are not the real life Hoosiers (don’t listen to sappy human interest stories) This team has won 24 in a row and they play defense as good as anybody! And Butler is the perfect coaching springboard. In the past decade, their coaches have gone on to get head coaching jobs at Iowa, Xavier, Ohio State, and Nebraska. But none of them ever brought this program to a Final Four, so Brad Stevens has to feel really good about his employment prospects.brad stevens

And of course the decision he made when he was 23, to give up his career as an Eli Lilly marketing rep. for that whole coaching thing. Stevens has guided his team with “The Butler Way” defined on the website as “demanding commitment, denies selfishness, accepts reality yet seeks improvement everyday while putting the team above self”

They beat a #1 and a #2 seed to get here, and the Bulldogs have trailed in the second half of all four tourney wins. (They trailed in the final 5 minutes in three of them) so if they fall behind tonight, remember they may be down, but never out.

The “State” of Basketball

if Michigan State had a theme song for their 2010 NCAA tournament run, it would be Gwen Stefani’s “Sweet Escape,” because the four victories propelling them to the “Caucasian Super Bowl” (nickname Bill Simmons gave the Final Four) have been by a combined 11 points.durrell summers

But winning in March is exactly what Michigan State does, they often stumble in November and December (a product of scheduling so hard) and when they pile up regular season losses, people start to underestimate them, and then BAM! March gets here and they go on a deep tournament run; maybe partially because teams overlook them?

“They don’t need to and I don’t know why they do it, cuz we got back to the Final Four. So if teams want to keep doing it, we’re just going to keep making runs,” injured star point guard Kalin Lucas said.

This year, State was the underdog to lower-seeded Tennessee last round and they won’t be favored versus Butler. In East Lansing, Elite 8s and Final Fours are starting to become just a regular part of the schedule.  Kind of like the Atlanta Braves and the NLDS in the ’90s and ’00s.

Sparty led the nation in rebounding margin this year- a hallmark of all Izzo teams. And they defend like nobody’s business, led by Durell Summers and the Dancing Bear Draymond “Day-Day” Green. Of course the best defense is to hit the boards quickly on the defensive end and limit your opponent to one shot. That’s why Jud Heathcote taught Izzo that “your best offense is the missed shot.”

Finally, another point in State’s favor: H to the Izzo is 4-0 in tournament games in Indianapolis, including 2-0 last season. And their last three tournament losses, and 4 of their last 5, have been to #1 seeds.

Prediction: I’m saying both Michigan St. and West Virginia advance with WVU winning the title game.

1. Sweet Escape is that song you hear at sporting events all the time. It compels kids on sugar highs to compete with drunk adults to see who can yell louder with “WOOO-WHOOOO!!! YEEEE-WHOOOO” chorus.

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