Any one of the four teams left could win the National Championship this year. Whether or not this is a good thing I’m not sure yet. In my opinion, the best storylines are the coaches. Wunderkind Brad Stevens, who out-coached AP Coach of the Year Jim Boeheim already, takes on Tom Izzo, who at this point could coach five members of the MSU band to a final four. And the lovable and unpredictable Bob Huggins takes on the well-spoken and calculated Mike Shasheffski (I refuse to spell his name anything other than phonetically). Both games have relatively evenly-matched teams, and I think the coaches will effect these game more than we’ve seen in a Final Four in a long time. Keep that in mind when you’re thinking where to put your money tonight. Here’s where I’m putting mine and why:
Butler (-1) over Michigan State
Most books are giving Butler a point, which I think would be more (like 2-2.5) if people weren’t betting this game specifically because of Tom Izzo. Butler doesn’t take a possession off and there whole team is an extension of coach Brad Stevens, who will have plenty to throw at Izzo’s Spartans with five days to plan. Butler’s defense has been phenomenal in their four tournament games, holding high-scoring teams Cuse, K-State, Murray State, and UTEP all under 60 points. What they lack in athleticism and size they make up for in hustle and fundamentals. There is no doubt they will be out-matched athletically, but like against K-State I don’t think it will be the difference in the game.
I’m not sure how Michigan State is still around. Lucas goes down, they have to hit a three at the buzzer to beat Maryland, and they haven’t won a convincing game yet. Getting Northern Iowa and Tennessee instead of Kansas and Evan Turner State probably helped. With all that said, the Spartans are athletic one through five and Darrel Summers is playing as good as anyone left in the tournament. Unfortunately Tom Izzo won’t be able to out-coach his way to a victory like he did against Bruce Pearl and Gary Williams’ assistants.
The trend right now is Butler 53%. Bettors are split right down the middle, as they probably should be in a game with these two teams. A stat that makes me comfortable with my money on Butler tonight: The Bulldogs are 5-1-1 against the spread in their last seven games against the Big Ten. This includes their win against Ohio State earlier this year. They have already beaten two teams that are head-and-shoulders better than the Spartans on their tournament path and I don’t expect them to end their run here. Butler will win, and the fact that the game is 17 minutes from campus makes this a cover for Butler. Take the Bulldogs with the point.
Butler 68, Michigan State 61.
WVU (+2.5) over Duke
Huggins against Shasheffski. I am actually pretty excited to see these two go at it. There are two things that could take this game out of the coaches hands and decide the winner, though: Da’Sean Butler and the refs. This game will be close at the end, and if Butler decides to take over he has the ability to win the game by himself. He is the best player left in either game. On the other hand, if the referees call this game tight, especially in the last five minutes, Duke will be the beneficiary because of their disciplined style of play and superior free-throw shooting. Referees are naturally Duke fans anyway, and if it’s as bad as the Baylor game they could be the deciding factor.
This game is one of two different styles. Duke’s balance and efficiency was enough against an athletically-superior Baylor team, but WVU is underrated defensively and just a flat out better version of Baylor. I think the Big East reigns supreme here. Duke is 1-5-1 against the spread in their last seven against the Big East, including a man-handling by Georgetown this year. The Mountaineers swept the Hoyas this season.
This game also has the betting public split down the middle (Duke 54%), and I’m a little surprised the line isn’t closer here. I’m taking WVU straight-up to win; I’m confident enough that Huggins and Butler don’t need the points. Unless Scheyer puts on an aerial barrage and Shasheffski has an answer to the matchup zone Huggie-Bear is surely going to throw at him, the Mountaineers keep their impressive season going.
WVU 71, Duke 67.