FINAL FOUR: Butler vs. Michigan State: Who really has the home-court advantage?
INDIANAPOLIS – Butler University is only five miles away from Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Bulldogs hold the hearts of most of the Circle City.
"It's going to be an honor to play in front of 70,000 people," sophomore Shelvin Mack said. "I never thought I'd have a chance to do that."
But their opponent, Michigan State University has found Indianapolis to be a friendly city as well.
The Spartans won their most recent NCAA Championship in 2000 in the RCA Dome, defeating the University of Florida on April 3, 2000.
Last year, Michigan State upset overall No. 1 University of Louisville in Lucas Oil Stadium to make the Final Four.
In fact, the Spartans have never lost an NCAA Tournament game in Indianapolis (7-0).
Butler has yet to play a game in the new home of the Colts; Michigan State has already won two.
Playing basketball in a football stadium like Lucas Oil can be challenging. Lucas Oil Stadium will provide a much deeper background than the Bulldogs see in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Shooters often rely on depth perception to line up and make shots, and a larger arena can wreak havoc on that effort.
Last season, Michigan State struggled in its first game in Lucas Oil, shooting 23-for-59 (38.9 percent) from the field in its first game. The Spartans improved to 22-for-52 (42.3 percent) in the second game, including 8-for-16 from 3-point range.
Butler was the only team in this year's Final Four not to play a game in the tournament at a football stadium.
Even so, after Butler's first practice in Lucas Oil on Thursday, sophomore Ronald Nored said the team adjusted quickly to the larger atmosphere.
"I heard Coach [Brad Stevens] say it was just like shooting outside," he said. "I think we all grew up shooting outside before, and so it's just going out there and playing."
Nored said he's not worried about the arena, noting that the Bulldogs have a number of good shooters.
If the shots aren't falling today, Butler sophomore Shelvin Mack said, it just puts a higher emphasis on rebounding and defense.
Unfortunately for Mack and Bulldogs, though, the Spartans will likely have the rebounding edge.
Michigan State has out-rebounded its opponents by 8.7 boards per game this season. Butler has been less successful on the glass with +2.9 rebounding margin this season and a -3.2 margin in the tournament.
Michigan State senior Raymar Morgan said the team's motto has always been that defense wins games. He said making it to consecutive Final Fours proves that it works.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo noted his team's success in Indianapolis last year, saying that he trusts his team. He said once the game begins, it's up to the players.
"If you're wondering if a team's ready to play, that's not a good sign," Izzo said.
Even though the game is in its hometown, Butler isn't too quick to jump on the home-court advantage argument, Mack said.
"I think home-court advantage is kind of overrated," he said. "It's just teams out there playing."
Stevens said Butler has managed the distractions of being in its home city pretty well. He said the Bulldogs should enjoy the experience, but they need to be prepared for today's game.
Nored said the team is trying to treat the event like a typical road trip, staying in a hotel in the city.
There will be exceptions to the standard road trip. Butler star Gordon Hayward attended his game theory class Friday morning before the teams open practice in Lucas Oil.
Despite some distractions, Hayward said it will be great to play in front of hometown fans, describing it as an "awesome feeling."
Morgan said the green-clad Michigan State fans will be making the four-and-a-half hour drive to Indianapolis as well, and they will have a presence in Lucas Oil.
All things considered, Nored acknowledged the novelty of this opportunity.
"It's still kind of cool we're here in our city," he said.