FINAL FOUR: Butler, Michigan State set to square off in Final Four action
Matchup features hometown heroes up against tourney experience
INDIANAPOLIS – A No. 5 seed has never won the NCAA tournament, but one team will get another step closer to making history.
Fifth-seeded teams Butler University and Michigan State University will play at 6:07 p.m in their first matchup since 1971. The winner will face the Duke University-West Virginia victor for the championship Monday.
To get to Final Four, both teams have faced their share of struggles.
Outside of Butler's opening round game against the University of Texas at El Paso, the Bulldogs' and Spartans' tournament games have been decided by seven points or less. In fact, Michigan State's margin of victory of 3.25 points per game in the 2010 NCAA tournament is the lowest for a Final Four team in history.
"I'd say this is a season of destiny," Michigan State sophomore Delvon Roe said. "We're used to playing close games."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said every team in the Final Four has gone through trials to get to Indianapolis.
"There's four teams left," he said. "You've survived some roadkill [to get here]."
Roe said experience will play a role in today's game – the Spartans are playing in their second-straight Final Four – but acknowledged Butler will have the crowd behind them.
Last year, the Spartans were just happy to be there, he said.
"We look at it this year as a business trip," Roe said.
Michigan State senior Raymar Morgan said he feels relief and jubilation to be back in the Final Four.
One big storyline of today's matchup is Butler's status as a mid-major. Neither team, however, was willing to consider this a "small school versus big school" matchup. Butler sophomore Shelvin Mack said it was a media creation.
Butler star sophomore Gordon Hayward said that the Bulldogs don't regard themselves as a traditional mid-major.
"I just think we consider ourselves a basketball team," he said. "We embrace if people want to talk about it, but when the ball goes up, we're just playing basketball."
He did admit that it would be great for mid-majors if one of their own won the championship.
Izzo said he isn't going to be fooled into underestimating Butler as the little guy.
"I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid of a Cinderella story when you're ranked 10th in the country," he said.
Izzo said the gap has closed considerably between large program and mid-majors. He said he doesn't view schools like Butler as a mid-major anymore.
Michigan State was known for a more up-tempo style than Butler, but that hasn't been as true since Spartan star Kalin Lucas suffered a left Achilles injury in the second round. After scoring 77.5 points per game in the first two rounds, Michigan State managed only 59 in a win against the University of Northern Iowa.
The Spartans have suffered several injuries during the tournament. Along with the loss of Lucas, Roe has a torn meniscus in his right knee, which will require surgery, and junior Chris Allen has seen limited playing time with a right foot injury.
Roe said that a lot of things changed in Michigan State's style after the loss of Lucas, but the Spartans are playing more like a team than ever.
Butler coach Brad Stevens said he can't imagine doing what Michigan State has done with the injuries they have sustained. He said it demonstrates a culture the goes beyond a single player.
"That's a testament to what they built. It's a testament to coach Izzo and the staff," Stevens said. "It's kind of daunting to have to play them."
The Spartans also have the experience of Izzo, who has led Michigan State to six Final Fours in the last 12 years.
Although this is Stevens' first Final Four trip in only three years as a head coach, Izzo commended Stevens' composure in getting ready for today's game.
"Brad has handled everything perfectly," Izzo said.
Izzo also downplayed the effect of the coaches on the result.
"The game's still played on the court," he said.
Roe said Michigan State feels like it has unfinished business after losing in the NCAA Championship game to the University of North Carolina in 2009. He said the team vowed to make it back to the Final Four this season.
Regardless of its style, Michigan State is a great team, Hayward said.
Mack agreed, comparing Michigan State to the University of Alabama-Birmingham – the last team to defeat Butler – but said the Spartans are more about the sum of their parts.
"They're a lot of great teams combined, which makes them so good," Mack said.
Butler sophomore Ronald Nored said making the Final Four has been a tremendous experience, but the work isn't done yet.
"We see ourselves as a potential national champion," he said.
Izzo said the winner of today's game will be the team who makes the fewest errors and capitalizes on the mistakes of its opponent.
"You should be able to make a mistake, just not in this tournament," he said.