Friday April 2nd, 2010

Final Four Matchup: Butler vs. Michigan St.
Shelvin Mack
Shelvin Mack (AP)

Take these categories a bit loosely for Butler, as the Bulldogs feature several inside-outside threats. The primary guard tandem is sophomore shooting guard Shelvin Mack, who is building "pro" buzz with each performance, and freshman Ronald Nored, a defensive pest who can get to the rim off the bounce. The guards, like all of the Bulldogs, are extremely good and savvy positional defenders, and they're also very ball-sure, committing only four TOs combined in over 60 minutes a game.
Korie Lucious
Korie Lucious (David E. Klutho/SI)

With leading scorer and assist man Kalin Lucas out with a torn Achilles' tendon, the ballhandling duties have fallen to Korie Lucious. He did a credible job against the ball pressure of Tennessee despite wearing down late, but will face a different challenge in breaking down Butler's stout half-court D. Durrell Summers was the Spartans' breakout star in St. Louis and will need to continue to be the player most think he consistently can be to carry the scoring load this weekend.
Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Matt Howard got the buzz early in his career, but he now takes a nominal backseat to Gordon Hayward, the 6-foot-9 forward with guard skills and a sweet inside-out game. That's not to discount Howard's rugged and effective contributions in the post. The combination of these two and Mack gives the Bulldogs a very balanced and potent scoring trio. Add in 6-3 Willie Veasley, another double-digit scorer who is the team's only core senior and whose position should be listed as "winner," and you have a very impressive group.
Draymond Green
Draymond Green (John Biever/SI)

Derrick Nix may start, but Draymond Green plays way more minutes, so let's count him here. Green is an extremely smart player who's a very efficient scorer and a statistically elite rebounder, especially at the defensive end. He complements longer, more athletic teammates Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe (battling a knee ailment), who also can score, rebound at both ends at a very high rate, and add shot-blocking, as well. MSU has a ton more quality size than Butler is used to seeing, which be a big factor in the game.
Zach Hahn
Zach Hahn (John W. McDonough/SI)

Zach Hahn provides some shooting and Shawn Vanzant provides some athleticism in the backcourt. The only real help for the frontcourt should Matt Howard get into foul trouble (which he's prone to do) is Avery Jukes, who played against Michigan State's Chris Allen in high school. Butler's tempo doesn't make a deep bench a requirement, but all three subs typically see double-digit minutes.
Chris Allen
Chris Allen (Robert Beck/SI)

Adding Nix here, he provides additional size (much size) and quality rebounding chops in his limited minutes. The principal reserve, though, is guard Chris Allen, who should be healthier after battling a sprained arch in his foot. Guards Mike Kebler (filling in for Lucious) and Austin Thornton got some minutes against Tennessee and could feature here, as well.
Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens (John W. McDonough/SI)

What more can you say about Brad Stevens? The youthful one has stepped right in as the latest in the impressive lineage of Butler head coaches and is outperforming all of his predecessors. Very even-keeled and focused, his Xs and Os chops will be strongly tested by one of the best coaches in the game, but he appears to be handling this week well and his Bulldogs seem to be enjoying the hometown attention.
Tom Izzo
Tom Izzo (AP)

If Tom Izzo isn't the best coach in the country, he's on the very short list. Izzo may have turned in his best coaching job this season, working through player discontent and significant injury issues to arrive in Indy. As Pablo Torre's piece on Michigan State's prep work shows, Izzo never will be out-prepared. Stevens is one of the game's bright young minds, but Izzo is far more accomplished and is about to coach in his sixth Final Four.
Butler (AP)

Butler should have a significant homecourt advantage, with the locals and likely the Duke and West Virginia fans all rooting for the Bulldogs. This was a factor for Michigan State last season and will be for Butler this weekend. So far, they seem to be handling the national spotlight well. Will the pressure of playing at home and being a favorite over the Big Ten co-champs come into play?
Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green
Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green (AP)

Michigan State has the experience of last season's national title game loss. The Spartans also seem to have pulled together as a team, first down the stretch of the season and now in rallying around injured leader Kalin Lucas. You can bet that Izzo is making his players well aware that a) they're an underdog and b) that Butler is statistically great on the defensive glass. Consider the gauntlet thrown.
Butler gets a lot of love for its offensive weapons, but statistically Michigan State is a superior offensive team and has length and athleticism that the Bulldogs don't see very often. As such, the keys to this game may be very simple. 1) Can Butler, with a tremendous defensive rate compiled against less-imposing opposition, keep Michigan State off the offensive glass? 2) Can Michigan State's fill-in point guard, Korie Lucious, spearhead a mistake-free attack that can get enough quality shots up (rather than turn the ball over) against a very smart and well-versed Butler team defense? Your winner will be formed from those two questions, unless one of the up-and-down perimeter shooters -- Hayward or Summers -- has a blinder to offset deficits elsewhere.
Butler is being billed as the team of destiny -- the mid-major that peaked a year early to land in a Final Four in its hometown -- but the Spartans actually have as much or more of that feel. This is a very emotional team at the moment, playing for Lucas and each other, and the Spartans will be very comfortable playing the half-court style Butler prefers. If they can get a few run-outs for baskets to keep things moving offensively, it should be enough. Michigan State also has the extra experience, both on the court and off, and picking against Izzo in a spot like this is very difficult.


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