By Jeff Frank
Can Favored Butler Take Advantage of Hometown Edge?
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's been only one season since a team played a Final Four matchup in its home state. Coincidentally, that squad, Michigan State, has to face this year's beneficiary, the Butler Bulldogs.
Butler hosts the Spartans this Saturday in a game played less than 10 miles from its own campus. If one thought Michigan State held a decided advantage over Connecticut in last year's semifinal matchup at Ford Field, imagine how head coach Tom Izzo feels about having to go up against a team that plays its home games in the shadows of Lucas Oil Stadium.
The bookmakers seized the opportunity, making Butler the favorite this weekend even though Michigan State has reached the Final Four five times since 1999.
The Bulldogs have not lost a game in 2010, winning 23 straight and 24 altogether if you include a New Year's Eve victory over Wisconsin-Green Bay. However, they are just 11-12 against the spread in those games with only a 40% winning percentage as favorites at 8-12.
Meanwhile, Michigan State is 18-5 since the New Year, and 12-11 ATS. More importantly, the Spartans are 4-1 ATS when getting points, including victories over Tennessee and Maryland already in the tournament.
Road games usually do not affect Michigan State, as evidenced by its 15-3 SU and 12-5-1 ATS marks in Big Ten play over the last two seasons.
Prior to the Kansas State game, Butler combined to hit just 38% of its shots vs. Murray State and Syracuse, getting outrebounded in both contests. It's true, Michigan State will be without Kalin Lucas, but the team regrouped from the loss of its leading scorer to win the Maryland game and then move forward beating Northern Iowa and Tennessee.
The Spartans are a perfect 4-0 this season with five full days of rest, which shows when given time to prepare, there might not be a better head coach than Izzo.
Here's one more nugget to chew on. Though Butler has an edge with the game being played so close to Hinkle Fieldhouse, Michigan State knows this city as well, having won the 2000 National Championship in Indianapolis.
AN ACC-BIG EAST SHOWDOWN
With its win over Baylor, Duke is in the Final Four for the first time since 2004. It's been a much longer drought for West Virginia.
Not since the days of Jerry West have the Mountaineers gone this far in the NCAA Tournament. Can they continue their run with a victory over the Blue Devils? Let's take a look at the matchup.
The two clubs are undefeated both SU and ATS in the NCAA's after going 0-3 ATS in conference tournament play. Duke won its first three games vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, California and Purdue by a combined 57 points but struggled against Baylor, needing two late three-pointers to solidify the victory.
West Virginia also dominated early-on, with three wins by a combined 49 points followed by a close one with Kentucky. The Mountaineers were 10-for-29 (35%) from two-point land vs. the Wildcats, but came through in the clutch with an incredible 10-for-23 (44%) day from beyond the arc.
On the injury front, it looks as if point guard Darryl Bryant will not be available so Joe Mazzulla will be the focal point for the Duke defense, along with Da'Sean Butler. Those two combined for 35 points against Kentucky.
Will Mazzulla be able to continue his fine shooting (5-for-8 from the floor) after hitting just three of his previous 21 shots? That's a pressing question.
It appears that Duke has a decided edge in the backcourt with Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, but the key will be how Kyle Singler responds after the worst game of his collegiate career. The junior missed all 10 of his shots against the Bears, and committed four turnovers to boot.
One has to expect the forward to bounce back after that wretched performance, especially if recent history has anything to do with it. There have been five games this season (prior to last Sunday) in which Singler has shot worse than 30% from the floor. In the five contests that followed those poor showings, he averaged 23 ppg on 52% shooting.
Duke is favored to win the National Championship at odds of 13-10, and the Blue Devils will make a lot of chalk players happy when they prevail in the finals over Michigan State.