A Final Four devoid of superstars

For Butler and the other Final Four participants it's all about the team. AP Photo/Michael Conroy

INDIANAPOLIS -- There are strange creatures running around here at Lucas Oil Stadium, oddities so rare in college basketball that they ought to be studied for scientific merit: teams.

That’s to say, instead of a collection of superstar players here for a college hoops fly-by, there are five guys who recognize the sum of the parts is stronger than the strengths of the individual.

In what is almost always the coming-out party for the next big thing, there is no next big thing in Indianapolis.

Not a single one-and-done, not a single consensus All-American.

According to Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News, this marks only the third time in the past 27 years that the Final Four will be played without a consensus All-American on the court.

“You’re not looking at a bunch of Carmelo Anthonys,’’ MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “You’re looking at a bunch of teams where the fifth guy is maybe as good as the first guy. I don’t think anyone is anywhere near where North Carolina was last year.’’

Certainly the constant shuffle at the top of the rankings and the wildly unpredictable upsets throughout this tournament has borne that fact out.

But there could be more at work here than an unstable field.

The glory of being the most coveted player or worse, freshman, comes with a price. Swirling rumors, constant questions and fending off (or not) agents who want to secure their cut in advance can make a college season nothing more than a pesky way to fill the day.

“It’s my favorite word of the year – distractions,’’ Izzo said. “We’ve got some great superstars playing college basketball but too many of them are looking too far down the road instead of the task at hand.’’

Indeed it was the distractions, not his desire to leave, that forced West Virginia’s Devin Ebanks to call a timeout last year.

“Devin, a year ago, never thought about it,’’ WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “Devin had a meeting because I think all the circulation was about him leaving. He came back and just said, ‘How do we stop this?'"

Some people, understandably, will hate this sort of Final Four. They want an NBA all-rookie team when it comes down to the final weekend of the college season.

But others, purists maybe, will revel in a chance to watch a different brand of basketball, one predicated on team play. Count Huggins among the latter group and understandably so. His West Virginia team is a classic example of a group that has aged well over time.

“I think the offseason is really important and when you have guys who are coming and going, you don’t get that time together as a team,’’ Joe Mazzulla said. “I mean, in Morgantown there’s not a lot to do and pretty much everyone who lives there is a college student. In the summer, everyone clears out so it’s really just us. We’re stuck together, but that’s where the chemistry comes from.’’