INDIANAPOLIS – Some of the players who figure to cash in big in the NBA Draft and others selected to All-America teams will be at the Final Four this weekend.
Just not in uniform.
They’ll be watching Duke meet West Virginia and Michigan State take on Butler in semifinal games that will require many viewers to pay close attention Saturday to player introductions.
No familiar names like Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina, as was the case the previous two years. No Derrick Rose, Memphis’ star guard and No. 1 draft selection from two years ago.
The top prospects, according to NBADraft.net, are West Virginia forwards Devin Ebanks and Da’Sean Butler and Butler forward Gordon Hayward. Butler is a senior, Ebanks and Hayward are sophomores. None is expected to be a lottery pick.
Meanwhile, Kentucky has two first-team All-Americans, freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, who figure to be among the top five players drafted. Add Patrick Patterson and Eric Bledsoe from the Wildcats’ roster, and that’s nearly a team of first-rounders from a squad that lost to the Mountaineers in the East Regional final.
“The megastar that you normally seem to find in these Final Fours maybe isn’t there,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Izzo has to accept his share of the responsibility for building a powerful club without a megastar. The Spartans are a collection of talented pieces that work on a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum basis.
This was never more evident than last weekend in St. Louis, when Michigan State swept Northern Iowa and Tennessee for the Midwest Regional championship without its leading scorer, Kalin Lucas, a guard who tore his Achilles tendon in a second-round victory over Maryland.
No matter; everybody else stepped up.
“It’s going to make a good Final Four in a different way,” Izzo said. “It might be refreshing and enjoyable to watch teams that are going to have to rely on each other to advance a little bit more than maybe one person.”
Look no further than Duke. Jon Scheyer is the Blue Devils’ leading scorer, but his shooting touch had largely disappeared in NCAA victories over California and Purdue. Then Kyle Singler went cold, missing all 10 shots against Baylor in the South Regional final. But others stepped up.
Or how about West Virginia? Like Michigan State, the Mountaineers lost a crucial component when starting point guard Truck Bryant injured his foot before a Sweet 16 meeting with Washington – and is “very doubtful” for Saturday’s game against Duke, according to coach Bob Huggins.
But Joe Mazzulla, a player whose career appeared to be over because of an injured shoulder – it was so useless that he was shooting free throws left-handed, and he didn’t make a 3-pointer all year – replaced Bryant in the East Regional and went on to a 17-point performance that included terrific defense in the title-game win over Kentucky.
That leaves Butler, a program whose place in college basketball’s hierarchy depends less on a superstar – although in Hayward and teammates Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard may have more future pro talent than any Final Four team.
The Bulldogs of the midmajor Horizon League have won 24 straight because coach Brad Stevens has blended that talent with superb offensive sets akin to the old Princeton offense and a dedication to defense.
“Watching the tournament, nobody’s coming close to playing perfect,” Stevens said. “But the team that sticks to their plan, that does what they do as well as they can for 40 minutes has a great chance of winning.”