West Virginia (31-6)
COACH: Bob Huggins, three years at West Virginia, three years in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid (Big East)
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: West Virginia doesn't like a frenetic pace and has embraced the idea of "winning ugly." The Mountaineers do this with tough, man-to-man defense, switching often, and by mixing in a 1-3-1 that clogs passing lanes and clouds the basket for most shooters because of the team's overall size and length.
The Mountaineers also hit the boards hard and hold a huge rebounding edge over their opponents for the year.
"Our best chance of making a shot is missing one first," said Da'Sean Butler.
The Mountaineers have to be better about sealing out defenders on the defensive end. WVU allowed 22 offensive rebounds against Kentucky and Duke, which grabbed the same number against Baylor, has been crashing the glass hard.
West Virginia and Duke's veteran players know each other from a memorable meeting two years when the Mountaineers were led by Joe Mazzulla to a stirring NCAA victory. The challenge Duke presents is very much different than WVU has faced in NCAA games against up-tempo Missouri, Washington and Kentucky. While the Mountaineers used the 1-3-1 zone to slow Kentucky, they figure to man up with Duke to take advantage of their athleticism and length. Duke hits a lot of 3-pointers, especially with Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler, while Kentucky could not drop any. Singler, though, comes off an awful shooting game against the Baylor zone, 0-for-10 from the field, including 0-for-5 from beyond the arc. Scheyer, Singler and Nolan Smith each average more than 17 points.
The Blue Devils have a big man in 7-footer Brian Zoubek to battle inside and they are a good rebounding team, but WVU figures to really be emphasizing rebounding this week after being pounded by Kentucky on the boards. The Mountaineers could make big use of reserve Cam Thoroughman, who had a big defensive game against the Blue Devils in the last meeting.
Duke, of course, is the only No. 1 seed left in the tournament and the coaching matchup between Mike Krzyzewski and Huggins is intriguing.
Offensively, Butler is the go-to player. Butler is one of three WVU players with 2,000 career points and had 28 vs. Missouri and 14 in the regional semifinal win.
Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks are talented forwards. Jones (15.5 points in WVU's last two games) might be playing as well as he ever has, but both players are double-figure scorers and impressive rebounders.
GO-TO GUYS: Da'Sean Butler, who opened the tournament with just nine points on 4-for-11 shooting against Morgan State, led the Mountaineers with 17 points per game on his way to being a first-team All-Big East selection. He played all 40 minutes in the regional final and scored a team-high 18 points. He has six game-winning shots this season, including his bank at the buzzer that knocked out Cincinnati in the Big East tournament quarterfinal and the off-balance shotput that beat Georgetown in the title game. Between Butler and Devin Ebanks, WVU has a couple of NBA-caliber players to rely on for scoring. Ebanks had 16 points and 13 rebounds against Morgan State. Kevin Jones and Wellington Smith each shoot around 38 percent from 3-point range and Jones had 18 points and eight boards against Washington.
THEY'LL KEEP WINNING IF: They keep playing smothering defense. West Virginia is undefeated when it holds its opponents under 70, and when it can hit that number itself it almost always wins. Like all Bob Huggins-coached teams, this edition of the Mountaineers tries to impose its will on the opponent. It hits the boards hard and plays in-your-face, switching man-to-man defense. Unlike some Huggins teams in the past, he has incorporated a 1-3-1 zone that he brings out at different times in the game as a change of pace, taking advantage of his team's extreme length. The offense runs off the talents of Butler, the high scorer who is versatile enough to play any position but center.
West Virginia continues to reinvent itself with every game. There was panic in some areas when starting point guard Truck Bryant broke his foot, but Joe Mazzulla stepped in and played solidly against Washington and then was the star of the Mountaineers' victory over Kentucky, scoring 17 points. He gives the team a different look than Bryant, being more of a slasher and relying more on speed. He also is a stronger defender, especially when WVU plays its 1-3-1 zone. Normally a switching man-to-man team, WVU played the 1-3-1 almost all game against Kentucky, with spectacular results. The Wildcats missed their first 20 3-point shots and Mazzulla, on the baseline, frustrated 6-11 DeMarcus Cousins.
The Mountaineers use Butler and Devin Ebanks to bring the ball up court when Mazzulla is on the bench and while that has led to an increase in turnovers, they also are tough matchups. WVU is getting great play off the bench from John Flowers, who was used for 23 minutes against Kentucky; Huggins said Flowers was the team's most valuable player in beating Washington, although his contributions can be subtle. Against Kentucky he scored only four points and fouled out, but he hit as many 3-point shots as UK's John Wall, had four rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
STRENGTHS: The defense is a Huggins trademark. But his team is particularly hard for opponents to match up against because it has size everywhere. Not many guards find it easy to score against the 6-7 Butler and Ebanks. Not many teams find it easy to stop them either.
WEAKNESSES: Top 10 teams don't tend to have many weaknesses, and the Mountaineers are no exception. But WVU doesn't always get great play from the point, which could be especially true without Truck Bryant (he's questionable with a fractured foot) and Mazzulla sometimes struggling with turnovers, distribution decisions and finding foul trouble. It doesn't want the game to become a total track meet, and prefers to force opponents into the half-court sets on offense so it can use its size to full effect.
1. Duke (33-5)
COACH: Mike Krzyzewski, 30 years at Duke, 26 years in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid (ACC)
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: Duke is suddenly the favorite for the NCAA title after the other three regional No. 1 seeds fell by the wayside before reaching the Final Four. The Blue Devils keep finding answers, perhaps most impressive because they've endured terrible shooting games from some of their top players in the NCAA Tournament and yet they march on. Duke hangs much of its credentials on a defense that has been unwavering for the most part. And the confidence is soaring for a team that has lost only once since January. Duke should be able to throw enough post players at West Virginia to be effective in the middle. However, the Blue Devils would be wise to avoid another subpar shooting game, which is what felled Kentucky.
This Final Four semifinal against West Virginia is a rematch of a 2008 NCAA Tournament game in the second round. West Virginia won that game. There are players from both teams who played in that matchup, though Duke guard Jon Scheyer has suggested that both teams probably have evolved since that matchup. Duke might have an edge in backcourt depth because West Virginia has injury issues there. If nothing else, after dispatching Purdue and Baylor in the regional, the Blue Devils have dealt with teams matching them physically in some areas.
The Blue Devils rely on the big three scoring threats of Scheyer, F Kyle Singler and G Nolan Smith. Duke's top five is comprised of upperclassmen, including seniors Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek. Zoubek can be a quiet difference-maker for duke. He's every ounce of 260 pounds at 7-foot-1 and holds his ground on both ends.
GO-TO GUYS: Duke's trio of Scheyer-Singler-Smith might be unmatched anywhere in the country on the perimeter. They were among the top seven vote-getters in All-ACC balloting by the media. Scheyer and Singler were first and fourth, respectively, in 3-point field goals per game in the ACC (No. 1 and 3 in conference action), and Smith hit 40.4 percent from behind the arc. All together, the trio accounts for nearly 70 percent of Duke's point production, with each of them topping the 500-point mark in the regular season. The best news for the Blue Devils is that they've survived off nights from one or more of their top-scoring trio. Scheyer was 1-of-11 against Cal and Singler didn't have a field goal against Baylor, but it wasn't as if points were at a premium. In Duke's first-round win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Singler picked up where he left off in the ACC Tournament, where he was the MVP. Singler was 20 of 40 from the field in the first three games, averaging 21 points and 7.6 rebounds in the tournament, before he didn't have one made field goal against Baylor. It was the first time in 109 career games he hadn't made one.
THEY'LL KEEP WINNING IF: Scheyer made only 5 of 18 shots in the first two rounds of the tournament and had a forgettable first half against Purdue. He finished strong with 18 points and gives the Blue Devils an "automatic" in late-game situations as the primary ball-handler -- he's shooting 88 percent from the foul line, and Smith (78) and Singler (80) are no slouches at the stripe. There have been questions throughout the tournament whether Duke could win without one of the big three putting up sizeable totals on the stat sheet, but it happened again in the regional final against Baylor, when Kyle Singler scored five points and didn't have a field goal. That was on the heels of some cool-shooting nights from Scheyer, including a 1-of-11 evening against California. Nolan Smith has been extremely steady and exploded for a career-best 29 points against Baylor. He could again be the wildcard in the national semifinal.
STRENGTHS: The Blue Devils are strong on the perimeter on both ends of the court, shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range for the season while holding opponents to just 27.2 percent (second nationally), and they don't make any stupid mistakes. Scheyer, Singler and Smith haven't been clicking all on the same tournament night, but that could be coming. With Zoubek and Lance Thomas willing to do the dirty work, the Blue Devils have the inside force to complement their 3-point game. They also are one of the top defensive clubs in the country, holding opponents to fewer than 62 points a game in the regular season.
WEAKNESSES: If Singler and Scheyer aren't hitting from long range, the Blue Devils can struggle to score, as their inside players aren't big point producers. West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone was a nightmare for Kentucky, and knocking down open looks will be vital to Duke's survival. The Blue Devils shot under 40 percent in each of their last three defeats in the regular season, but the real killer came at the other end of the court. North Carolina State, Georgetown and Maryland combined to shoot 59.2 percent from the field in beating the Blue Devils.
5. Michigan State (28-8)
COACH: Tom Izzo, 15 years at Michigan State, 13 years in NCAA tournament.
HOW THEY GOT IN: At-large bid
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: The Spartans have a razor-thin margin for error with four NCAA Tournament wins by a combined 13 points. The play of point guard Korie Lucious will continue to be a key. Lucious was tremendous in Friday's Sweet Sixteen win over Northern Iowa, with 10 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals and just two turnovers in 39 minutes. He also had the key shot, a spinning fade-away from 14 feet to put the Spartans up four with 1:31 left. But he got fatigued in the Tennessee game and had five turnovers -- also missing a crucial free throw late, and it showed that he is new to being put at the foul line in late-game, high-intensity, mounting-pressure situations. The Spartans need to keep him solid. Their defense and rebounding are steady as usual at this time of year, and turnovers in general are less of an issue than they were for much of the season. A big question is whether the torrid outside shooting will continue, and that rests largely on the shoulders of Durrell Summers.
GO-TO GUYS: There's a lot the Spartans will miss not having Lucas on the floor. He scored 25 points on 7 of 11 shooting in the Spartans' first-round win NCAA Tournament over New Mexico State; 3 of 5 from long range and 8 of 12 from the line and had six assists in 15 minutes before he was injured against Maryland. Sophomore PF Draymond Green (10.1 points per game, 7.8 rpg) might be the Spartans' best all-around player as the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year (and third-team All-League pick). Draymond came off the bench to grab 12 rebounds against New Mexico State. He does everything except shoot 3-pointers. When he gets the ball with his back to the basket, he's just as likely to throw a perfect pass as attack the rim for a layup. Senior Raymar Morgan (11.1 points per game) and junior Durrell Summers (10.3 points per game) are athletic specimens who can erupt for 20-plus any night. Morgan, in particular, has been hot for the last fortnight and had 17 against Maryland, when Summers poured in a team-high 26. Korie Lucious made three treys against Maryland, including the game-winner.
THEY'LL KEEP WINNING IF: The Spartans are battered, bruised and without their best player for the Final Four. Izzo says the Spartans are not the same team without top scorer Lucas. Sophomore Lucious has played with a chip on his shoulder but had a 2-of-9 night with five turnovers in the Midwest Regional final. If he keeps his emotions in check, the Spartans have to like their chances in Indy. Michigan State retained seven of its top nine players from last year's national runner-up team, but all seven of those guys don't seem to show up on the same night this season. Having so many talented players can be a boon during the NCAA Tournament, which can be so much about matchups. Clearly, there is hope without Lucas. In Michigan State's final five February games, a different Spartan led in scoring each time. Durrell Summers has become a difference-maker with 66 points in the last three games.
STRENGTHS: If you match Michigan State on the boards, then you've done the improbable. The Spartans again rank among the nation's top teams in rebounding margin (plus-9.2 per game), and it might be the most important part of their identity. They're 25-3 now when they out-rebound a team, but just 3-4 when they don't (they were even, 24 apiece, with Tennessee). Michigan State remains devastating in transition -- after missed shots as well as made baskets -- and shoots 52.2 percent on two-pointers. The Spartans limit opponents to 41-percent shooting from the field. Rebounding has to continue to be a major edge for Michigan State if the Spartans want to play in the national title game for a second straight year. In cooling off Northern Iowa, the Spartans extended their defense beyond the 3-point line but showed a relentlessness getting to the glass that made Izzo smile. Every player that logged action against the Panthers had at least one rebound, and Michigan State held a 31-20 advantage. For the tournament, MSU has a 134-100 edge on the boards.
WEAKNESSES: Injuries, dings and dents are adding up. Delvon Roe (torn meniscus in right knee) and Allen (torn ligament in right foot) have injuries that could take them out of action at any time. Lucious is a shoot-first point guard and he missed six of the seven 3-pointers he tried against Tennessee and also clanged the biggest free throw of his season. That's not saying much -- he's attempted only 15 all year and 33 in his two years in East Lansing, which could be a trouble spot Butler will investigate considering he is, by default, the primary ball-handler in crunch time. Michigan State commits a ton of turnovers, and that back-breaking flaw could debilitate a team playing without its best distributor in Lucas. The Spartans improved on their miscue rate late in the season, but they've still committed more than they've forced. They committed only nine turnovers against New Mexico State, then had 18 against Maryland but just 10 against Northern Iowa and 11 vs. Tennessee. The Spartans made 23-of-55 3-pointers in their last three games. But for a team with a brilliant shooter in Allen and other willing perimeter threats, the Spartans hit just 33 percent of their 3-pointers and 69 percent at the free-throw line.
5. Butler (32-4)
COACH: Brad Stevens, three years at Butler, third year in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid (Horizon champion)
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: Butler's half-court defense will be broken down at coaching clinics all year long. The Bulldogs have good athletes in the backcourt and every player Stevens puts on the court takes responsibility for playing "defense first" rather than worrying about style points or the scoring column. The Bulldogs are far more pesky than powerful, but the heady style of play forces the opposition to play at that same level of focus. Michigan State can adapt to a slow pace. Coach Tom Izzo likes to control every possession and might go out of his way to do just that with neophyte point guard Korie Lucious showing he has the moxie for make a big shot but perhaps not the maturity to knew when not to pull the trigger.
Butler was outrebounded in three of its four losses, and the Bulldogs haven't been able to find the range from 3-point distance consistently. There will be pressure on point guard Ronald Nored to set the offense and ensure the Bulldogs get quality possessions. Butler doesn't shoot well outside as a team and top scorer Gordon Hayward, the team's top scorer at 15.2 per game, is just 5-of-17 from 3-point range in the NCAA Tournament. Butler doesn't match up well against bigger teams and Matt Howard, who had four fouls in the first 25 minutes against Murray State, is tall but lacks true bulk in the middle to handle Michigan State's many talented bigs.
GO-TO GUYS: Hayward (6-foot-9, 207 pounds) has 12 double-doubles, including five in his last nine games, and is coming off his best game in the postseason -- 22 points and nine boards -- against Kansas State. He might have turned a corner when he played more like himself against Syracuse, leading the team with 17 points and showing more of an attacking mentality with the ball. He was selected the 2009-10 Horizon League Player of the Year, taking the title away from his teammate, junior forward Howard (6-8, 230). Sophomore guard Shelvin Mack (6-3, 215) joined them on the all-conference first team, and has 13 3-pointers in the NCAA Tournament with a scoring average of 16.5 and eight steals. Sophomore guard Nored was chosen the Horizon's co-Defensive Player of the Year. Senior swingman Willie Veasley (6-3, 206), who has won more games than anyone in school history, joined Nored on the league's All-Defensive Team. Sixth man Zach Hahn (6-1, 176), a junior, is a career 41.6 percent shooter from behind the arc.
THEY'LL KEEP WINNING IF: During Butler's 24-game winning streak, Howard and Heyward were both shooting at or above 50 percent. When the Bulldogs sink at least nine 3-point field goals, they have won 23 consecutive times and are 40-1 under Stevens. But the Bulldogs shot only 36 percent and were outrebounded 38-20 against Murray State, and then went 6-of-24 (25 percent) against Syracuse with a minus-10 rebound differential. This season, they are 23-1 when leading at halftime, 23-1 when outrebounding their opponent and 26-1 when hitting more free throws than their opponent. Butler is 17-1 when scoring at least 70 points and 0-3 when it gives up 70 or more (losses to Georgetown, Clemson and Minnesota).
STRENGTHS: Playing basketball the "Butler way" means playing smart, hard-nosed defense, hustling for loose balls, making the extra pass and taking high-percentage shots and open 3-pointers. The Bulldogs led the Horizon League in scoring defense (58.8 points per game), scoring margin (plus-13.2), field-goal percentage (48.0), field-goal percentage defense (40.2) and rebound margin (plus-5.9), finished second in assists (13.7 per game) and ranked third in steals (6.6) and free-throw percentage (75.3).
WEAKNESSES: The 3-point shooting hasn't been up to the school's usual high standards this year, with the Bulldogs shooting worse than 30 percent in 13 games, including the regional semifinal vs. Syracuse. The Bulldogs did handle the ball (six turnovers) against Murray State and Syracuse (seven turnovers), but turnovers have also been an uncharacteristic concern. Including the 20 turnovers against Kansas State in the West Regional final, Butler has had more turnovers than assists in eight of its last 13 contests. Howard has been plagued with foul trouble, fouling out nine times this season, and has a total of 20 points in the last three games after averaging more than 13 in the regular season.