04/01/10 — Final Four column

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Final Four column

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on April 1, 2010 1:46 PM

With a pair of marquee programs, perhaps the hottest team in the game, three veteran head coaches and a hometown favorite there's plenty to capture the attention of college basketball fans at this weekend's Final Four.

The following is why each of the Final Four participants could both win and lose this weekend in Indianapolis:


* The three amigos: Duke's three-headed monster of Kyle Singler, John Scheyer and Nolan Smith has carried the Blue Devils all season. Nothing has changed in the NCAA tournament with the trio combining to average 50 points a game through the first four rounds.

Singler, the ACC tournament MVP, has scored in double figures in 34 of Duke's 38 games this year. Scheyer once again showed signs of breaking out of his recent offensive slump with 20 points against Baylor in the Elite Eight. Smith poured in a career-high 29 points against the Bears.

If the Blue Devils are going to claim their fourth national championship, Singler, Scheyer and Smith are going to have to continue to lead the way.

* Danger zone: It wasn't until the second half that Duke truly started to figure out Baylor's zone defense. Smith was the only Blue Devil who demonstrated a consistent ability to penetrate the Bears' defense off the dribble. Duke can expect to see a healthy dose of 1-3-1 zone from a West Virginia team with plenty of length.

West Virginia

* Captain clutch: The most clutch player left in the tournament, West Virginia's De'Sean Butler, has made six buzzer-beaters this season. Butler has averaged 17 points a game during the tournament, and at 6-foot-7, his athleticism could present matchup problems for Duke.

* Off the mark: Not a particularly strong shooting team, the Mountaineers are averaging less than 45 percent from the floor including less than 34 percent from 3-point range. Without the girth to match Duke on the interior, West Virginia will have to find a way to knock down shots.

Michigan State

* March Magician: No coach in recent memory knows what buttons to push in March like Michigan State's Tom Izzo. The Spartans are in their sixth Final Four in 12 years under Izzo. Michigan State's first four wins of this tournament have been by a combined 13 points.

* Walking wounded: The Spartans are already without injured guard Kalin Lucas. Delvon Roe is playing on a torn meniscus, while Chris Allen is nursing an aching foot. One can only wonder when or if at all these injuries will start to take their toll.


* Flash Gordon: Sophomore forward Gordon Hayward has developed into a virtual NBA lock with his play during the tournament. The 6-foot-9 Hayward has averaged 16 points a game during the run to the Final Four and is one of four Bulldogs scoring in double figures.

Playing just five miles from its campus, Butler will truly be the fan favorite in what should be an electric atmosphere at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Bulldogs have reeled off 24 straight wins and haven't lost since Dec. 22.

* Keeping pace: Butler was able to control the tempo and slow down both Syracuse and Kansas State. This grind-it-out strategy could play right into the hands of a banged-up Michigan State team that prefers to play in the half court.