Wednesday Final Four Commentary

Andy Glockner, SI.com: Tom Izzo is the best college basketball coach in America. Relax, North Carolina and Duke fans. No one’s slighting your leading men or their career accomplishments. We’re talking about right now, this very moment, two days after Izzo pulled off the near-impossible and made Michigan State’s three-year turn-of-last-decade run now look more like the rule rather than the exception. Think last season’s dramatic push to the national title game in Detroit with a youthful roster was stirring? This year’s Spartans have overcome a leadership void, player-coach discontent and a back-stiffening gym-floor sleepover in addition to the late rash of injuries. Their quartet of NCAA tournament wins are highlighted by a crucial lane violation, a buzzer-beating three and the country’s largest temporary (and most loquacious) point guard dropping a delicious dime that helped beat Tennessee. And let’s be honest: On the list of legendary college basketball settings, how long after Westwood, Lawrence, Chapel Hill and Durham would it take to finally get to East Lansing? Izzo doesn’t get enough credit for the level of talent he brings in, considering he’s selling kids on winters in central Michigan. Meanwhile, Roy Williams’ office phone has a golden arches insignia on it.

Matt Norlander, The Dagger: [Butler] is allergic to losing. It’s H-A-R-D to go 32-4 in D-I. I hope you can understand just how hard, even when playing in a conference like the Horizon, which isn’t such a shabby cast of characters. Yet Butler has done it and managed to keep a winning streak going that’s now stretched to 24 games. Say what you will about streaks and strategies and the like, but the point is this team has developed a sick habit of finding how to win and doing it their way. That’s the important thing to realize. Butler isn’t winning games by being a chameleon. No, it’s keeping opponents below 60 points (that’s happened seven games in a row and 13 of the last 14) and using man-to-man defense that would make any old-school coach blush. Speaking of that defense, while we can talk about Matt Howard, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack — the three primary offensive options for Butler — it was Shawn Vanzant and Ronald Nored who, in my mind, stole the show in Salt Lake City. Both guards got in the grills of, arguably, the best backcourt in the country. Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen combined for two points in the first half of the regional final. That anemic performance was unseen from K-State this season.

Andy Staples, SI.com: That day, senior Brian Zoubek replaced sophomore Miles Plumlee in the starting lineup at center. The 7-foot-1 Zoubek, long considered a solid rotation guy but not necessarily a key cog, scored 16 points and grabbed 17 rebounds (eight on offense) in 22 minutes and led the Blue Devils to a 21-point win. The moment was critical for Zoubek, who had the ability but lacked confidence, and for Duke, which had the ingredients to build a championship but had yet to hit upon the proper recipe. Finally, master chef Krzyzewski had discovered the correct mix. Lead with a heavy helping of Zoubek and power forward Lance Thomas, then inject the athletic Plumlee brothers, Miles and freshman Mason, when the other team’s big men have grown weary of wrestling with Zoubek and Thomas. Early in the NCAA tournament, Krzyzewski conceded that Duke’s quartet of bigs — not big three scorers Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith — were the difference between a team capable of making the Final Four and one that wouldn’t last past the second weekend. Duke’s past few teams have had plenty of scorers, but they lacked the willingness or the ability to pound opponents in the paint.

Mike DeCourcy, The Sporting News: With the exceptions of the game that won them the 2010 Big East championship, and the one that got them to their first Final Four in two generations—and, if things go just right, the two that will lead to their first-ever NCAA title—the most memorable basketball game involving these West Virginia Mountaineers was one almost nobody got to see. It was two summers ago, pitting members of coach Bob Huggins’ first full recruiting class at WVU against the veteran players who’d been brought to Morgantown by previous coach John Beilein. And the word “against” probably is an understatement. “We hated them,” said forward Wellington Smith, one of the Beilein holdovers. Through Huggins’ first season at West Virginia, Smith and his teammates heard repeatedly from Huggins about how he was going to get “my guys” into the program and fix everything that seemed wrong. It might not surprise you to know Huggins is not above playing mind games to motivate his players. “He always says things to get under our skin, make us work harder,” Smith said.


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