Whenever a team embarks on a journey through the NCAA Tournament that gains them national media recognition, it becomes more of a burden than a blessing. Each individual receives more questions than usual, more calls of support from family and friends and even more ticket requests. The team is put under the microscope – every detail about how they play and possible outcomes in the upcoming game is scrutinized to an almost boring extent. The pressure that is placed by the media on these kids is an immense burden that threatens the ability of each of them to stay focused, though it is simply part of the experience for Final Four participants.
And so, as the 5th seeded Butler Bulldogs prepare for their Final Four matchup against Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans, I hope they are keeping their heads on straight. Tom Izzo is now entering his sixth Final Four appearance during his coaching tenure at MSU. He is perhaps the best coach in the NCAA at preparing his team for the NCAA Tournament. It seems like every year his team overachieves according to popular opinion, although to Izzo he probably believes his team underachieves, because he knows his team’s potential and excepts the very best out of them.
On the other bench, Brad Stevens enters his first Final Four in only his third year as the head coach of Butler. No words can fully capture the exceptional ability that Stevens has showed in guiding this team to the Final Four. I whole-heartedly believe that he will be a successful coach for some time, and I know he is doing his best to keep his players’ minds on the right track. What I do question, however, is whether or not the players are following suit and staying focused.
Obviously, the players have bought into what coach Stevens has preached, or else they would not be playing in Indy right now. But the pressure on these kids is quite heavy. Meanwhile, even though the Spartans are considered the favorite due to Tom Izzo’s experience, Butler is receiving all the media attention.
I know that MSU will be prepared and are basically flying under the radar right now. They must love it. They’ll let the Bulldogs have all the attention they can handle. Then, the Spartans can come out focused and just play their game without having to prove anything to anyone but themselves. That is why if you asked me who I think will win between MSU and Butler, I would say the Michigan State Izzo’s without question.
Don’t get me wrong; I want to see Butler win just as much as anybody – I think the story that they’re carrying on their backs is a fantastic story. Lucas Oil Stadium will be ear-piercingly loud in support of the hometown Bulldogs. But boy, what a weight that story is on their backs.