By Jay Ingles
As we approach the national semifinal games, let’s take a look at what you should watch for in Indianapolis:
1. Michigan State guard Korie Lucious. Lucious has gone from role player to X-factor in the absence of Spartan star Kalin Lucas. Lucious averaged just five points a game in the regular season but has scored better than ten a game since Lucas’ injury against Maryland. He even nailed a game-winning three as time expired against the Terrapins, showing a willingness to take the big shot and an ability to perform in the clutch. Lucious logged an impressive 37 minutes per game in Michigan State’s last two games.
2. Butler’s home-court advantage. The Bulldogs have a comfortable five-mile bus ride from their campus to Lucas Oil Stadium, which may give their game a decidedly home-court feel. This could have an impact on the performance of Butler’s younger stars, namely sophomores Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack. Nothing like the hometown fans cheering you on, especially when you’re a school the size of Butler.
3. West Virginia’s athleticism. The Mountaineers are big, they’re long, they’re mean. They’re just the team to give Duke, a team that lacks athleticism, serious problems. The Mountaineers’ zone defense can be very effective when they can use their length to cut off passing lanes. Duke crashes the offensive boards hard, but West Virginia may crash them even harder. If Bob Huggins’ team can use its athleticism to its advantage, they may very well win a national title.
4. Duke’s big three. Duke goes as Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, and Nolan Smith go. If you can’t shut down at least one of these guys, you’re not going to beat them. It’s as simple as that. They all play nearly the entire game and combine to take the vast majority of the Blue Devils’ field goal attempts. Singler and Scheyer may get more hype, but Smith can be downright scary (see his 29 points against Baylor). If these three have their way, Duke is going to have its way.
5. The unexpected. Nothing is certain in this NCAA Tournament, and there is a believable scenario under which each of these four teams could win the title. Thanks to the unlikely runs of Michigan State and Butler, there will be a five-seed playing in the national championship for the first time since 2002. We all have an idea who we think will win, but, let’s be honest, nobody really knows.