Saturday, April 3, 2010
Greetings from the best day in sports
By Eamonn Brennan
INDIANAPOLIS -- Well, it's finally here. The Final Four. Indianapolis -- and the thousands of fans that have already filled most of the 73,000 seats in Lucas Oil's gigantic interior -- is every bit as excited as you'd assume.
I wasn't in Detroit for last year's Final Four, but the talk of the town this year is how much more alive this year's event feels. It's easy to see where that sentiment comes from. The weather has been great (it snowed in Michigan last year), the fans, Butler's especially, are out in full force, and the hordes of hoops heads that have descended on the city have found a town that embraces the Final Four with the same alacrity as it embraces all things basketball. It's been a wonderful experience so far. And we're just getting started.
The atmosphere aside, there is the small matter of tonight's two games, the first of which, Butler vs. Michigan State, tips off at 6:05 ET. Some assorted thoughts:
Expect a low-scoring game. Butler has shown an ability to hold opponents to low point totals throughout this tournament; Brad Stevens' team has yet to allow the opposition to score 60 points in any of the four games it won to get here. Michigan State has been shooting the ball better in the tournament than it has all season, but the Spartans still aren't near the offense of Syracuse or Kansas State. It should be low-scoring to the very end.
Which means Michigan State might be well-served by trying to get runouts on the break as much as possible. Butler loves to grind out games. It loves to play a slow style. With the exception of Butler star Gordon Hayward, the Spartans are the more athletic from top to bottom, and that speed and athleticism could get them the sort of transition baskets that make scoring against Butler a considerably easier proposition.
Meanwhile, Butler has to block out. The Bulldogs are very, very good at keeping opponents off the offensive glass, but Michigan State just so happens to be one of the better teams in the country at grabbing its own misses. Offensive rebounding has received plenty of attention in the run-up to today's games (a decent portion of it from yours truly), but that's for good reason. It just might decide this game.
Speaking of Hayward, it will be fascinating to see how Hayward takes this stage. He's the most NBA-ready player at this Final Four, playing just a few miles from his hometown for an Indianapolis school that just so happened to get to its first Final Four ... in Indianapolis. That's a lot of pressure. There are a lot of people in this stadium. Does Hayward thrive on this? Does he shrink from the task? Butler doesn't necessarily need Hayward to shine to top Michigan State. But Hayward has the chance to become a household name -- a real-life Jimmy Chitwood for the modern era. Does he take that opportunity?