There’s a coach they call “Huggy Bear” and a team better known for its fieldhouse than its players. There’s a Final Four regular that hardly anyone figured would get this far and, bringing a wee bit of normalcy back to the party, there is Duke.
One of the most unpredictable NCAA tournaments in recent history served up a bit of the familiar for the Final Four – and a good dose of something completely different.
Coached by Bob “Huggy Bear” Huggins, West Virginia will make its first appearance since 1959, back when Jerry West played guard. Its opponent Saturday will be Duke, the only No. 1 seed to make it to Indianapolis.
The other game features Butler against Michigan State in a meeting of two No. 5 seeds – the first time that’s happened.
Butler, enrollment 4,500, plays in the gym where they filmed the basketball classic “Hoosiers” and is making its first Final Four appearance. Michigan State (28-8) is making its sixth and perhaps most unexpected trip in the past 12 years.
“I talked to them this morning about separating themselves,” said Spartans coach Tom Izzo, at the helm for all those Final Four trips. “We’ve gone through a lot of things this year, not as bad as sometimes portrayed, and yet not as smooth as some years that we’ve had.”
Butler (32-4) will bring a 24-game winning streak to Lucas Oil Stadium – which happens to be only about a 10-minute drive from campus.
The Bulldogs are the first team since UCLA in 1972 to play a Final Four in their hometown.
The other game pits No. 2 West Virginia against No. 1 Duke. Led by Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer, the Blue Devils are the new, odds-on favorite to win it all, listed at 3-2 in the line that came out Sunday night. West Virginia is next at 9-5 and the Spartans and Bulldogs are both 3-1.
This is the first time since 2004 that only one No. 1 has made it to the Final Four. (None made it in 2006.)
West Virginia may get an unexpected boost in the return of Darryl Bryant. Bryant, who missed the last two games with a broken foot, hasn’t been cleared to play, but West Virginia trainer Randy Meador told the Sporting News that Bryant could wear a specially designed shoe that would shift weight away from his fractured fifth metatarsal.