MSU was essentially the home team in 2009. Feeding off that energy, they propelled themselves in to the final game. This year, they are the road team. MSU must feed off of what they learned in 2009.
The key to predicting any sporting even, as experts like myself know, is to analyze every fact, every statistical nugget, every number and every intangible, then use them to decide which hand should flip the coin.
by Michael Rosenberg
This Butler-Michigan State game is probably a toss-up; one betting line has Butler favored by a point, which puts it within the margin of a freshman’s error.
Michigan State is deeper, but Butler probably has the most gifted player (swingman Gordan Hayward). The Spartans famously united after a moderately disappointing regular season marked by internal strife and the coach complaining about internal strife. Butler has not lost since Dec. 22.
The Bulldogs are tough, defensive-minded players who would rather turn over their wallets than the ball. MSU has more overall talent, but the Spartans have flirted with losing in every round of this tournament. That’s risky against a team that hasn’t lost in more than three months.
The biggest question of this Final Four: Why is Butler here? There are many right answers, including:
• 1. Why are any of us here? It’s not for us to question.
• 2. The Bulldogs beat UTEP, Murray State, Syracuse and Kansas State. But if you have a bracket, you knew that.
What’s interesting about those victories is that a) Syracuse was a No. 1 seed and Kansas State was a No. 2, which makes both of those victories more impressive than anything MSU has done in this tournament, and b) Butler beat Murray State by two, Syracuse by four and Kansas State by seven.
So the Bulldogs have shown they can handle high-pressure situations — they avoided a big upset against Murray State with clutch plays in the final minute, hung on when Syracuse mounted a comeback and beat Kansas State in a close game with a Final Four bid on the line.
• 3. Do you know the difference between “lucky” and “good” in sports? Good is what happens to you; lucky is what happens to somebody else.
Hayward was a late bloomer, literally and figuratively — he did not hit his current height of 6-feet-9 until he got to Butler, and he was not heavily recruited. Now he might be the best NBA prospect in the Final Four.
Butler sophomore guard Shelvin Mack is from Lexington, Ky., but Kentucky did not recruit him until late in his high school career. By then, he already had committed to Butler, and he stuck with his commitment.
Hayward and Mack are the Bulldogs’ top scorers. Butler coaches did a great job finding these hidden talents and were lucky nobody else did. In any event, the Bulldogs have exceptional talent for a Horizon League team.
Ultimately, maybe the biggest difference between the teams is the Final Four itself. The Bulldogs are the underdog story (if not the underdog team) and the home team. MSU, of course, was the underdog story and home team last year.
And this is why, when pressed to make a pick, I’m going with MSU.
I thought that making the Final Four in Detroit last year hurt Michigan State at times this season. The Spartans did not seem as hungry as they should have been in December and January. It would be natural if, subconsciously, they realized that nothing could happen in this regular season that would top what they did at Ford Field last spring.
But that Final Four appearance should help them now. When Delvon Roe said Friday that “we’re not satisfied with making the Final Four — we want to win on Monday,” it resonated more than when players usually say that stuff.
For the Spartans, making the Final Four in Indianapolis cannot possibly be as much fun as doing it in Detroit.
Unless they win.