2010 Final Four Underdogs: What Have We Learned?


BY NEAL MALONE

Surprised.  Dumbfounded.  Confused.  Puzzled.

All of the above words can describe America’s general feelings towards the 2010 NCAA Tournament.  I’ve been  alive and kicking for 23, going on 24 years now…and I’ve been filling out brackets for 16 or 17 of them.  I have  NEVER seen anything like this.

Now, I don’t consider myself to be the King of basketball game prognostications, but I usually produce a fairly  decent NCAA Tourney bracket.  This year…not so much.  I’m not alone, though.   People all across the nation are  being chewed up and spit out by the monster that is the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

For the sake of time, let’s just skip over all of the insane first round, second round, and Sweet 16 action.  I know  those rounds really showcased the magic, but just take a look at a few of the Final Four underdogs for a  second…Michigan State and Butler.  Don’t these two teams really sum up what this crazy tournament has been all  about?

MICHIGAN STATE…What have we learned?

As a 5-seed in a group that was unanimously voted as being the toughest, Michigan State did it again…or should I say Tom Izzo did it again.  While his players certainly deserve plenty of credit, how can you downplay the fact that this is Izzo’s 6th Final Four appearance since 1999?  The wild part about Izzo’s Final Four runs is that half the time his team isn’t supposed to make it past the Sweet Sixteen or the Elite Eight.

He consistently overachieves in March because he coaches his players in a way that makes them relish the spotlight.  This year’s run is specifically amazing because not only have they done it in a tough group, but they have done it without their best player half the time.  Kalin Lucas missed the Northern Iowa and Tennessee victories due to a torn achilles and the Spartans will continue to miss him as they move forward in the tournament.

Was it convenient that Michigan State didn’t end up having to play the 1, 2, or 3 seeds in Kansas, Ohio State, and Georgetown?  Maybe so…but then again, it’s all relative in March.  They had to play the teams that beat Kansas and Ohio State, so what’s worse?

The point is that we’ve learned that Tom Izzo is officially hard to bet against in March.  We kind of knew it before, but this year’s improbable run really underscores the fact that Izzo and the Spartans are born to play in March…and born to play well at that.  Maybe next year I’ll just throw them into the Sweet Sixteen without even caring what players they have.

BUTLER…What have we learned?

Ahhh, the Bulldogs…how can you not be rooting for them to go all the way?  I mean, come on…Butler’s undergraduate enrollment doesn’t even hit 5,000.  They play in the Horizon League, which is one of the worst mid-major conferences.  And the percentage of players on their team that are the fundamental, back-to-the-basics, underdog kind of white guys is much higher than most teams!

Yeah, that’s right.  I love watching players on the big stage that give the everyday guy like me the slighest idea that “hey, maybe that could be me out there!”  Oh yeah, and their coach, Brad Stevens, looks like he just finished potty training…it’s fantastic!  Anyways, Butler is an irresistible rooting interest of mine…and most of the American population I think.

It’s not just about their underdog status and their unconventional look, though.  This team can REALLY play.  But I’m surprised that some of the snobby NCAA basketball analysts on TV have yet to fully recognize it.  HELLO, THEY BEAT SYRACUSE AND KANSAS STATE!

I’ve heard people complaining about having to watch a team like Butler play in the Final Four instead of say…Syracuse.  The reasoning behind their argument is stupid, though.  They say they want to see “the best” play in the Final Four.  Well, last time I checked, that Syracuse team you’re begging to see in Indianapolis lost to Butler.  To tell you the truth, I think watching a team like Butler play in the Final Four is plenty more compelling than watching a Kentucky or a Syracuse.

America has learned a number of things from Butler…

  • It’s just basketball.  It’s two teams playing for 40 mintues.  The team that scores more points wins.  Butler keeps it simple with their mindset.
  • Coaching wins games.  He’s young, but Brad Stevens’ gameplans, set plays, and in-game coaching decisions rank near the top in the country.
  • Size doesn’t always matter.  Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard, both listed at 6-8, are the tallest players in Butler’s normal rotation.
  • Stick to the fundamentals.  Butler doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but they pride themselves on being where they’re supposed to be on the court at all times.

Now one of these two teams will get a chance to complete their Cinderella story in the championship game.  Will it miraculously be Michigan State for the second year in a row?  Or will it be the giant killers, Butler?

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