As if it wasn’t enough for the Michigan State Spartans to lose their best player, Kalin Lucas, in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, injuries to Chris Allen (foot) and Delvon Roe (torn meniscus in knee) have also plagued Tom Izzo’s squad.
Now, the Spartans are battling a different kind of foe: the crowd.
The Butler Bulldogs, winners of 24 consecutive games and riding the highs of wins over Syracuse and Kansas State, are basically playing a home game as their campus is only 6 miles from where the Final Four is being played—the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Michigan State was in a similar situation last season as they played the Final Four in Detroit, which is not five minutes away from East Lansing but nonetheless very reasonable driving distance. As everybody knows, the home fans could only carry the Spartans as far as national runners-up as they lost to a stacked North Carolina team.
Butler will surely have many supporters, but along with that comes many distractions.
The Bulldogs have never been in this type of situation; playing in front of a massive crowd, facing distractions a team normally wouldn’t come across in a regular season contest, and playing in the school’s first ever Final Four. It is a lot to handle for college kids, but at this time of year nothing should be taken for granted.
The Spartans and Bulldogs play with similar styles and possess similar personnel.
Izzo is a lot more experienced than Brad Stevens, but Stevens is definitely making a name for himself in the college coaching ranks. He has done great things at Butler and has turned a virtual unknown into a national contender. Whether he can out school the teacher is one question which will be on everyone’s minds.
Michigan State will continue to look for greatness from Durrell Summers, who is playing absolutely out of his mind right now. He’s the go-to guy and will need to keep scoring if the Spartans want to advance.
Draymond Green is another player with great basketball IQ, always making the right pass and focusing on taking the opportune shot. He is even the team’s backup point guard, being given at least five set plays to carry the ball up the court. Not too bad for a man of his size.
On the other side, Butler will rely on Sheldon Mack and Gordon Hayward, two players who can score in droves. Mack is more of a speedster, penetrating the lane or pulling up for a shot.
Hayward, who has the potential to be an NBA player, can do just about everything. He can shoot from the perimeter, drive the lane, make the extra pass and be a solid defender. He is a dynamic athlete and will need to be kept in check by Michigan State’s defenders if the Spartans want to win this game.
The game will ultimately come down to physicality.
Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the nation. With a frontcourt which includes Green, Roe and Raymar Morgan, Izzo preaches attacking the glass on both ends of the floor and winning games with such hard-nosed play.
Butler will need to withstand the Spartans’ prowess in that department, and forward Matt Howard will need to avoid foul trouble as Butler probably possesses the least amount of depth of the four teams remaining.
Let it be known, though, that this is surely no David vs. Goliath match-up. Butler was ranked in the preseason top 10 and hasn’t lost a game in months. They are a very good basketball team and will surely come out to prove it in front of their faithful followers.
I’m pretty sure Izzo knows it, too.