BUTLER vs. MICHIGAN STATE
Matchup: Butler brings a versatile team to the Final Four, with three capable go-to scorers. Shelvin Mack, Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard can score inside, but do most of their damage from the perimeter. Butler is undersized and not overly athletic, but has managed to neutralize bigger teams throughout the tournament. Saturday's matchup with Michigan State presents a new challenge. The Spartans are without question the most physical team Butler has faced and have exhibited a great deal of mental toughness along the road to Indianapolis.
Michigan State faced tough opponents and hard-fought games throughout the Tournament, winning its four games by only a 13-point margin. No team has ever won its first four games by a smaller amount since the field was expanded to 64 teams. The Spartans also had to endure the loss of floor- and emotional-leader Kalin Lucas to get past the deep and talented Tennessee Volunteers in the regional final. It was a tall order but future Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo pushed all the right buttons, and the Spartans are back in the Final Four for the second year in a row.
Butler Bulldogs, West Region No. 5 seed
Backcourt: Ronald Nored and Shelvin Mack lead a deep Butler backcourt. Nored has shined in the Tournament and shown the ability to get to the basket at will. Mack is a streaky shooter who prefers to play on the perimeter but has the ability to use his strength to get to the bucket. Reserves Zach Hahn and Shawn Vanzant could play a role against the Spartans. Hahn is Butler's best pure shooter, connecting on 42 percent from 3-point range this season.
Frontcourt: Gordon Hayward emerged from his prolonged shooting slump against Kansas State and has NBA-caliber ability. He is primarily a finesse player but has the athleticism and length to get to the basket. Matt Howard's numbers have declined dramatically in his junior season, but he is a proven scorer. Senior Willie Veasley plays bigger than his 6-foot-3 height and is the Bulldogs' best defender. The Bulldogs lack of height, length and strength inside could finally become a problem against Michigan State.
X-Factor: Shooting. Butler gets almost all of its offense from the perimeter but is not a great shooting team. Hayward and Mack have the green light to launch, and if they are dialed-in from distance the Bulldogs will be difficult to beat.
Who They Beat to Get Here:
Murray State, 54-52
Kansas State, 63-56
They'll Win If: Butler has taken advantage of circumstances throughout the NCAA Tournament. The lack of MSU's Kalin Lucas makes this a much more even matchup and means the game will most likely be played in the 60s, giving the Bulldogs a chance to win. If Butler matches Michigan State's physicality and shoots well from the outside, the Cinderella Story is likely to continue to the title game.
Michigan State Spartans, Midwest Region No. 5 Seed
Backcourt: Don't dimiss Michigan State's backcourt with the loss of leading scorer Kalin Lucas an Achilles' injury. Korie Lucious has nine steals in two games replacing Lucas, while Durrell Summers is averaging 20 points per game in the tournament. Chris Allen, who was limited early in the Tournament by a foot injury, looks healthy after playing 29 minutes against Tennessee.
Frontcourt: Raymar Morgan totaled 10 rebounds in the regional final to lead a Spartans team that usually does a sound job on the glass. Although Draymond Green only notched one board in the last game he posted 25 in the first three games. Delvin Roe played through 20 minutes on a torn meniscus on his knee and should be well rested for Saturday night's game.
X-Factor: The absence of Kalin Lucas could be a big factor in this game. The main ballhandler for Michigan State, Lucas opens the lane to dish out to open three-point shooters and is deadly in the transition game. Veterans Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen must step up their games to compensate for the loss of Lucas.
Who They Beat to Get Here:
New Mexico State, 70-67
Northern Iowa, 59-52
They'll Win If: Draymon Green and company continue to impose their strength and offennsive rebounding advantage in the frontcourt. Butler will have a tough time matching up with their size on the interior. Korie Lucious, Chris Allen and Durrell Summers will have to get open looks from beyond the arc and penetrate the lane to draw fouls on the key players of Butler. Allen or Summers will have to deny the post pass to Butler's Matt Howard and make Butler shoot from the perimeter.