Posts Tagged ‘Duke’

Weekly links … NCAA Tournament style


Reminiscing about last week’s NCAA Tournament games and I can’t help but think how fun it was to watch South Carolina defeat Duke.

Of course, it is fun anytime Duke goes home the first week of the tourney but it was especially fun because all the Duke excuse makers were out in full force.

You see, it was somehow unfair for Duke to have to play South Carolina in the state of South Carolina.

But for some reason, it never is unfair for Duke opponents to have to play the Blue Devils in the state of North Carolina. How many times has Duke had two quasi-home games in the NCAA tourney?

Yet somehow it was really unfair for Coach K and his team to have to play in a different state.

Duke couldn’t play in the home state this year because the tournament was pulled from North Carolina due to that weirdo transgender bathroom law.

Do they have guards outside the bathroom checking your gender before you are allowed in? What a dumb law.

Anyway, South Carolina and star guard Sindarius Thornwell outclassed Duke. And Frank Martin outcoached Coach K.

South Carolina became America’s Team for a night as most people around the nation enjoyed watching another Duke early exit.

Go Mercer! Go Lehigh! Go South Carolina!

Isn’t Duke an elite program? Well, elite programs should be able to win anywhere.

End of story.


Interesting tidbit I dug up: Wisconsin has won more NCAA Tournament games than anyone else over the past four years.

The Badgers are looking for their 14th NCAA win in that time span when they face Florida on Friday.

Normally, I wouldn’t care who wins a game like this. Especially since my bracket has already met the shredder (thanks, Villanova).

Oh yeah, it was Wisconsin causing my bracket to become full of red ink with its impressive victory over Villanova.

But I now realize it is time for the Badgers to go home. Not their fault but I learned that the slimy politician guy named Paul Ryan is from Wisconsin.

Ryan is the dingbat who is somehow coming up with a worse health care plan than the disaster known as Obamacare (the one time Donald Trump is right). I wouldn’t trust that Ryan clown to correctly put English muffins in the toaster. Heck, my mom calls him a jackass.

Go Gators! Make Paul Ryan have a horrible Friday night.

Here is the stellar preview —


Thursday is the night that all of those Gonzaga fans will become really sad.

The Bulldogs don’t have enough ball-handlers to deal with the “Press Virginia” defense that West Virginia is famous for. The Mountaineers have forced 724 turnovers — nobody else even has 600 — and I see them creating havoc all game long.

Gonzaga also is the team with all the pressure on it. The Bulldogs have never reached a Final Four and even coach Mark Few admitted that the Final Four thing will continue to hang over the program until it reaches one.

Well, I don’t see Nigel Williams-Goss and his teammates even reaching the Elite Eight. I see Gonzaga’s season coming to an end on Thursday.

Here is the stellar preview —





Studying the NCAA tournament bracket so I can fill it out before Thursday and I can’t believe who I see as an 11 seed.

Is that UCLA? The underachieving Bruins? … hold on a second while I LOL about 1,000 times.

Wait, selection committee chairman Scott Barnes says UCLA passed the eye test?

Most people’s retinas want nothing to do with seeing these Bruins and chronically cranky coach Steve Alford.

Let me guess, Barnes had his eyes closed when Kentucky held UCLA to just seven first-half points in an 83-44 trouncing.

Perhaps that tape didn’t get to Barnes. Or maybe he watched it to see if the Bruins passed the smell test.

Who knows if Barnes truly has much knowledge about basketball. His day job is athletic director at Utah State, which tells me he better had been doing a lot of networking with the other committee members in hopes of landing a much better job.

The Bruins aren’t even Dayton bound and that means they didn’t sneak in. Sorry, this UCLA team shouldn’t be leaving Los Angeles.


Sooooooooo, there is Texas sitting there as an 11 seed as well. The Longhorns definitely pass the eye test with some of the physical specimens on the squad so that makes you wonder about a few things.

Texas went just 3-12 against Top 50 teams. Tells me the Longhorns are not a Top 50 team if they could only win 20 percent of their games against good teams. I think the correct term is underachievers.

Think about this, give snubbed Colorado State 15 games against Top 50 teams and maybe they go 5-10 against them. Heck, let’s give UC Santa Barbara 15 such games and maybe the Gauchos go 4-11.

So when the ESPN clowns kept pointing out the record against the Top 50, the more sense it made that Texas belonged in the NIT. Then it led Iowa State by double digits in the type of win that could seal a bid and the Longhorns watched the Cyclones score the final 12 points and win on a game-winning shot.

Texas never trailed in the game until it ended … and that choke job didn’t hurt. The Longhorns were easily in.

The other thing I wonder is this – if Texas has so much talent and all it can do is beat equal or lesser teams, what does that say about coach Rick Barnes? He obviously isn’t connecting with this year’s Longhorns for them to be such underachievers.

Hey, maybe Scott Barnes and Rick Barnes are related! Now things finally add up.


Ummmmmmmm, the second Wyoming won the Mountain West tournament title, I knew either Boise State or Colorado State was in big trouble.

No way the Mountain West was getting four teams in when the conference had an average season. Remember some of those seasons the Mountain West was stacked and only got three teams in? So four this year made no sense.

Turns out Boise State had a lot of sweating to do as a 12 seed sent to Dayton. Heard some complaining about Boise State having to play on Dayton’s homecourt in the play-in round and I have a few thoughts.

–Don’t exit the Mountain West postseason tournament in the semifinals when you are the No. 1 seed. Get to the title game or win the tourney and you get a higher seed and you go to a real NCAA tournament site.

–Play a better schedule. Having Adams State, Northwest Nazarene, Southern Utah and Abilene Christian on the home slate does nothing for you. There are five Pac-12 teams in close proximity. Figure out how to play at least one of them each season.

–And don’t lose to Loyola-Chicago. Ever.

Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy was apparently too confident that his team was getting in and didn’t play star forward J.J. Avila (ankle) in the Mountain West semifinals against San Diego State.

Holding out your best player when he actually can play is silly in the month of March. Guys tough it up in December against the Akrons and UNC-Wilmingtons of the world when there is little at stake so Eustachy’s decision was pretty poor.

And making it because you think your team is in is doubly silly.

Sooooo, Colorado State, enjoy the NIT. And thank your coach for that.

I really couldn’t tell you who will win the game between San Diego State and St. John’s. Either team can win the game and either team can lose it.

The Red Storm lost shot-blocker supreme Chris Obekpa to a suspension so perhaps the Aztecs will find success driving to the hoop instead of having the ball slapped into the third row.

On the other hand, San Diego State can’t score. And that surely includes practice.

The winner of the game probably gets to play Duke. You need to have the potential to score 75 points to upset Duke.

It is terrific that San Diego State can play great defense. But this is March and the NCAA tournament.

If you can’t score, you will go home.

My NCAA tournament bracket is a bloody mess and I know where to place the blame.

You may recall that the bracket showed me the way to Missouri and I expressed fear that might be something I’d regret.

That decision imploded quicker than O.J. Simpson’s reputation did back in June of 1994.

The second-seeded Tigers didn’t even win a single game in the tournament and lost to 15th-seeded Norfolk State on Friday.

Note to self: Missouri never wins in anything of importance. Mark this down as a lesson learned and to be remembered.

The only saving grace for my bracket title hopes is that second-seeded Duke also went down Friday by losing to 15th-seeded Lehigh.

Norfolk State and Lehigh winning on the same day is something no sane individual would have ever predicted.

Only four No. 15 seeds had won prior to Friday’s epic day: Richmond over Syracuse in 1991, Santa Clara over Arizona in 1993, Coppin State over South Carolina in 1997 and Hampton over Iowa State in 2001.

Here are some other thoughts after the conclusion of the real first round of the NCAA tournament:


Aztecs overpowered by Wolfpack

At least I was wise enough to pick San Diego State to be a one-and-done participant.

There was nothing to like on paper about the Aztecs’ matchup against North Carolina State and it was even worse when the game was played.

The 11th-seeded Wolfpack owned the interior and shot 58.5 percent in the 79-65 victory. North Carolina State had a 38-29 rebounding edge and held the sixth-seeded Aztecs to 37.7 percent shooting.

San Diego State’s smaller lineup – and not nearly as tough either – couldn’t defend 6-foot-8, 250-pound Richard Howell, who more than doubled his average with 22 points.

The Aztecs will be loaded next season as transfers J.J. O’Brien (Utah) and Dwayne Polee II (St. John’s) and a highly regarded recruiting class join returning starters Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley, Xavier Thames and James Rahon.


Ohio the Buckeyes or Ohio the Bobcats?

Alanis Morissette isn’t the only person who finds it “Ironic” that Michigan lost to Ohio on Friday.

Former San Diego State coach Brady Hoke is Michigan’s football coach and Hoke purposely refers to the Ohio State Buckeyes as “Ohio” as a slight to the Buckeyes.

Hoke did it in his opening press conference and did it all throughout the season. But it wasn’t only people associated with Ohio State who took offense to the dig. The real Ohio did too and the Bobcats used it as motivation when they saw Michigan was the first-round opponent.

“Ohio State is The Ohio State and we’re Ohio University in Athens,” guard D.J. Cooper said after scoring 21 points in the epic upset. “So hopefully, they’ll show us some respect now.”

Hoke’s deal is silly when you realize Hoke would have found it insulting to be referred to as the coach of San Diego – the Toreros are a small-college football program – when he was at San Diego State.

No matter how you want to refer to the Bobcats, there will always be this fact: It will never be forgotten that highly seeded Michigan of the Big Ten got eliminated by 13th-seeded Ohio from the Mid-American Conference.

The joke is on Hoke’s school.


Bank shots

A double-digit seed is guaranteed to be in the Sweet 16 of the Midwest Regional as No. 12 South Florida meets Ohio on Sunday … That is also the case in the South Regional with Lehigh facing No. 10 Xavier. In fact, a Colorado upset over No. 3 Baylor would leave two double-digit seeds facing one another in the Sweet 16 with the Buffaloes being an 11 seed … Love how remarkable Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart already answered the question of who is this year’s VCU with Thursday’s impressive victory over fifth-seeded Wichita State … All eight higher seeds won their games in the East Regional … Rick Majerus is apparently still among the living and guided ninth-seeded Saint Louis to a first-round victory over Memphis in West Regional play. When Majerus was Utah’s coach and once served as a guest analyst in the CBS studio, he delivered one of television’s top all-time lines when asked how he deals with a tough loss. “Win or lose, I go eat my ass off,” Majerus said.


Idle thought

Never, never ask the bracket to show you the way to the winner. It mistakes the request for “Show Me” and you end up with Missouri.


I kept hearing over recent weeks that Kawhi Leonard’s draft stock has been dropping.

Wasn’t a total surprise to hear such stuff. Despite all the positive attributes to his game, the San Diego State standout doesn’t have the outside shot that most 6-foot-7 NBA players have and he didn’t elevate his game to a higher level during the program’s rare visit to the NCAA tournament.

When Leonard declared for the draft, he was seen as a player who would be selected between the 15th to 20th picks and he was hoping to move into the Top 10 through his workout performances.

The NBA draft is about to commence and I spent the hour before it reading everything I can find about Leonard. I see stuff that he might go as high as the sixth overall pick and there are several mock drafts that have him in the Top 10.

So where is this stuff about his stock dropping coming from?

Going from a mid-first round projection to a Top 10 selection is not a downward spiral.

Regardless, Leonard will be San Diego State’s initial first-round pick since school legend Michael Cage in 1984 and the first Aztecs player to hear his name in the draft since Randy Holcomb went late in the second round in 2002.

His rebounding prowess alone – he had 23 double-doubles last season – will assure Leonard will be a solid NBA contributor. The guess is figuring out how much he can help a team early in his career and then seeing if his scoring abilities improve as he further develops his game.

In a perfect situation, Leonard would have remained in school one more season. He turns 20 early next week and he would have been a preseason All-American if he had returned for the 2011-12 campaign.

He helped the Aztecs to a school-best 34-3 record and the first two NCAA victories in program history so his place in school history is secure. Cage is easily the school’s best-ever player and Leonard is right there in the discussion for second-best despite only playing two seasons at the school.

But this is a weak draft so it made sense that Leonard waved good-bye to text books and hello to large paychecks.

The draft will start soon and it will be interesting to see which team selects Leonard, a player of great promise who works hard and should be a good citizen.

Some other draft thoughts:

–The Cleveland Cavaliers have the first and fourth overall picks in the draft and the scuttlebutt is that the franchise will pick point guard Kyrie Irving of Duke with the top pick. Irving played just 11 college games. If I were running the Cavs, I would take Arizona forward Derrick Williams with the first pick and then take Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight with the fourth pick.

–The biggest area of intrigue is whether the Utah Jazz will take BYU star Jimmer Fredette with the 12th overall selection. The franchise is under a lot of local pressure to do so and can you imagine the uproar if the Jazz pass on Fredette and he becomes a big star elsewhere? The other concern is what if you pick him and his defense isn’t up to par and he becomes a major bust?

–What is Butler star Shelvin Mack doing in this draft? He could have been one of the biggest and brightest stars in college basketball next season and he’s rated nothing better than a second-round pick. With a lockout rating as a possibility, there are several players like Mack that made major mistakes in entering the draft.

One often-used phrase has been retired and a never-used one hangs in the balance.

Nobody can ever again say “San Diego State has never won an NCAA tournament game” as long as college basketball and March Madness exists. Definitely overdue to have that phrase booted out of the vocabulary.

The new phrase waiting to be uttered for the initial time is “San Diego State is in the Sweet 16.”

The Aztecs play seventh-seeded Temple in Saturday’s Round of 32 with a berth in the West regional semifinals on the line. Temple defeated Penn State on Thursday when Juan Fernandez hit the last-second, game-winning shot.

It was the Owls’ first NCAA tournament victory in 10 years, an interesting fact when you consider all the tourney damage John Chaney-coached Temple teams did over the years.

Current Temple coach Fran Dunphy is now in danger of losing the nickname that peeves him.

“Fran One-and-Dun-Phy.”

Hard to say if Temple (26-7) has two NCAA tournament wins in them but it’s well-known that it will rank as a major disappointment if the Aztecs (33-2) don’t win Saturday’s contest.

San Diego State is seeded second in the West and playing relatively close to home in Tucson with a potential Sweet 16 contest looming in Anaheim. Temple, of course, is far, far away from its Philadelphia campus.

The Aztecs weren’t all that impressive during the first 26 minutes of their opening victory over Northern Colorado. San Diego State finally pulled away en route to that milestone victory.

Having Temple squeak by Penn State was also a blessing. The Owls have nobody who can defend Kawhi Leonard’s athleticism and if they do decide to gang up on Leonard, then either Malcolm Thomas or Billy White should be able to prowl at will in the interior.

The Owls match up in the backcourt well with the Aztecs – Fernandez against D.J. Gay should be a nice point guard battle – but don’t appear to have the depth that San Diego State possesses.

At this point, every contest is uncharted territory for San Diego State, a team that has never before been a player on the national spotlight. So one of the keys that you don’t find on the stat sheet is how the Aztecs fare with NCAA tournament pressure. It will only increase each step of the way and NCAA tourney regulars like Duke, Arizona, Texas and Connecticut are still alive in the West regional field.

But as for Saturday, there is only thing San Diego State needs to make sure happens – TNT broadcaster Kevin Harlan saying the following as the game against Temple concludes: “San Diego State is headed to the Sweet 16.”

That phrase might stun your eardrums at first but it’s much pleasing than the usual mantra of how San Diego State never wins in the NCAA tournament.

San Diego State has never won a single NCAA tournament game and finds itself in a position that would have shocked even the most positive alumnus just 18 months ago – a 2 seed in this year’s edition of March Madness.

The Aztecs being a 2 seed among all the giants of the college basketball world is similar to the Detroit Lions showing up in uniform on Super Bowl Sunday or the Chicago Cubs getting their fingers measured for World Series rings.

In other words, it defies logic at every level above preschool intelligence. Even a porcupine would’ve told you that you were nuts if you had predicted such a thing would occur in your lifetime.

But there is Steve Fisher’s team with a gaudy 2 next to its name on the bracket sheet. That’s the same seed as North Carolina and a better seed than every school in the field except for the four No. 1s – Ohio State, Kansas, Duke and Pittsburgh.

Look on the 3 line and laugh at Syracuse and Connecticut, two Big East powers that would never consider playing a road game at San Diego State. Over there on the 4 line is Kentucky, another elitist program. Longtime West Coast power Arizona is a 5 seed. Oh my, is that cocky UCLA way down there as a 7? The program that won’t even consider traveling two hours down the road to play the Aztecs is a 7 seed while San Diego State is a 2?


I see Michigan State is playing the Bruins in the first round as a 10 seed. Yeah, the same Spartans who were in the Final Four last season.

It almost lines up as “Bracket Gone Wild” to see San Diego State drawing a 2 seed and then getting favorable destinations along the way as long as it wins – first two games in Tucson, next two games up the road in Anaheim.

That type of easy path is normally reserved for the heavyweights of the college basketball world.

The Aztecs (32-2) open play on Thursday against 15th-seeded Northern Colorado and it will be a major surprise if the game is close for more than 12 to 15 minutes. And I say that fully aware that San Diego State has a well-earned reputation for falling short in the two major sports (football being the other).

I’ve dissected the bracket and I can only come up with one thing that can prevent San Diego State from reaching the Sweet 16. That would be possible second-round opponent Penn State. But first the Nittany Lions have to get past Temple.

Sorry fans of the Owls, I’ve dissected Temple pretty good and can’t figure out any way that tournament underachieving coach Fran Dunphy can win two games in this NCAA tournament with one of them being against San Diego State.

Penn State is the type of team that will give San Diego State problems. But I’m guessing the Aztecs aren’t going to be overlooking any team during this tournament. That comes with the territory when your program has zero NCAA tournament wins in its history.

The nucleus of this San Diego State squad came up short in last year’s March Madness, falling to what I felt was a very beatable Tennessee squad in the first round. Funny how the Volunteers ended up in the Elite Eight and I’m sure that memory is still very fresh in the minds of super sophomore Kawhi Leonard and seniors D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White.

I see the Aztecs having a solid chance at playing Duke in the Elite Eight and it’s too bad that the Blue Devils’ Kyrie Irving is expected back from a toe injury. It would be hard enough for San Diego State to deal with accomplished stars like Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith – two big-time performers from Duke’s 2010 championship team – and the big Plumlee brothers (Mason and Miles) on the interior but now Irving will be back in the mix as well.

But hey, that’s a problem San Diego State hopes to face down the road. For now the Aztecs need to make sure they get NCAA tourney win No. 1 out of the way Thursday and figure out how to hold off Penn State on Saturday.

Of course, how dreadful would it be if the Aztecs end up being one of the high seeds that gets booted out in its first game by an upstart program nobody expects to win?

That can’t possibly happen, can it?

Then again, nobody had a 32-2 record and a 2 seed ever happening at San Diego either.

And nobody had Butler nearly beating Duke in last year’s title game either. Or George Mason reaching the Final Four in 2006.

So who knows what will happen as March Madness gets rolling on Thursday. San Diego State has been treated mighty fairly by the Selection Committee.

It’s time to see if the Aztecs can live up to the 2 seed.

The first third of San Diego State’s basketball season was a smashing success. The second third begins Wednesday when the Aztecs open Mountain West Conference play by visiting TCU.

San Diego State (15-0) finds itself in unprecedented territory as the nation’s No. 6 team entering the conference slate.

That the Aztecs have a good team this season is no surprise. San Diego State returned the core of a team that went to last season’s NCAA tournament and the Aztecs have been predicted to win the Mountain West this season.

But it is hard to get used to seeing San Diego State behind only Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the national rankings. Think about this – the Aztecs are ranked ahead of programs such as Kentucky, Michigan State, Purdue and Villanova.

That’s high-level territory, even more so for a San Diego State that was never previously nationally ranked prior to this season.

Of course, the season’s final third will be the most important for San Diego State as the Aztecs have never won an NCAA tournament game before. Based on the lofty midseason ranking, winning two tourney games and reaching the Sweet 16 is the new and heightened expectation.

TCU (9-6) has the look of an improved team with Virginia Tech transfer Hank Thorns and junior-college transfer J.R. Cadot making significant contributions. Star guard Ronnie Moss has a concussion and might not be available for the contest.

The Horned Frogs nearly upset the Aztecs in San Diego last season so it won’t surprise me if Kawhi Leonard and the Aztecs receive a nice test.

There’s also a Mountain West showdown in Las Vegas on Wednesday with Brigham Young (14-1) visiting UNLV (12-2). The Rebels have defeated BYU eight straight times at the Thomas & Mack so Cougars star Jimmer Fredette faces a supreme challenge.

Air Force (9-4) hosts Utah (7-7) in Wednesday’s other Mountain West game. The Falcons have a shot at beating the Utes, who are getting solid production from junior-college transfer Will Clyburn.

Colorado State (11-4) defeated Wyoming (7-8) on Tuesday in the first Mountain West contest of the season. The Rams are hoping to be a dark horse championship contender.

New Mexico (11-3) has the first-night bye and is playing Cal State Bakersfield.

For a deep look at the Mountain West Conference, here is the stellar weekly conference roundup:

I’m struggling with the notion that college basketball season is just around the corner, particularly since it seems that last-second midcourt heave by Butler’s Gordon Hayward that nearly took down Duke in the NCAA tournament title game seemed to occur about six weeks ago, not six-plus months ago.

I had some summer assignments for national entities like Athlon Sports magazine and USA Today’s College Basketball preview issue (both periodicals are now in your favorite bookstores) but neither task hammered home the point that the start of the season was nearing.

But Friday’s start of practices that includes televised coverage of Midnight Madness certainly drums it home.

One of this season’s intriguing programs to watch will be one that never is in the national spotlight for hoops: Boise State.

The program has never won a single NCAA tournament game – hey, sounds eerily like that San Diego State program I covered for 13 seasons – and was prone to late-game meltdowns last season while finishing eighth (out of nine teams) in the Western Athletic Conference with a 15-17 overall record, including a 5-11 WAC mark.

But the school is beginning a new era under Leon Rice, a Gonzaga assistant the past 11 seasons. You might have noticed that Gonzaga has had a bit of basketball success over the years. The school is the mid-major basketball version of what Boise State’s non-BCS football program has become on the national stage.

If you study the situation closely, you will see a lot of parallels to the circumstances former Gonzaga assistant Bill Grier inherited when he became coach of the University of San Diego prior to the start of the 2007-08 season. Grier molded a talented yet underachieving group into a team that cracked the 2008 NCAA tournament and notched a first-round upset of Connecticut for the Toreros’ first-ever NCAA tourney win.

As Rice said Thursday, the cupboard isn’t bare at Boise State. He returns four of the top five scorers from last season’s team, including double-digit scorers Robert Arnold and Daequon Montreal. Guys like La’Shard Anderson, Paul Noonan and incoming junior-college recruit Tre’ Nichols give Rice some pieces to work with in his first season.

Only time will tell whether Rice is cut out to be the guy who can take Boise State to new levels in basketball. But there are worse things than giving the Gonzaga blueprint a try.

Here’s a stellar Associated Press story on Rice’s task as Boise State begins a new era of basketball:

Just was thinking about Saturday’s Final Four games and have decided I will be dreaming about the Butler Bulldogs in my sleep.

As in the possibility of a Horizon League team actually winning a national championship.

No, this isn’t about to digress into one of those forced and very wrong “Hoosiers” comparisons. Anyone who has been paying attention closely to college basketball over the last decade is well aware Butler is no fluke.

Just because Butler’s homecourt (Hinkle Fieldhouse) is best known for being the place where the famous movie was filmed doesn’t mean we turn a program that has made three Sweet 16 appearances in the last eight years into a Cinderella, happy to be in the Final Four motif.

The Bulldogs have won 24 consecutive games heading into Saturday’s national semifinal contest against Michigan State. Good teams get upset all the time in college basketball and Butler hasn’t lost a game since the calendar still said 2009.

Let that sink in for a second, Butler has won two dozen consecutive games over the last three-plus months.

Most people can’t tell you how many teams are in the Horizon League and who they are – yes, even I had to look it up; the answer is 10 and I was only able to name seven of them – so Butler being in the Final Four is like Boise State reaching the Fiesta Bowl. The apple cart hasn’t only been turned upside down, it’s been ravaged and plundered.

The Bulldogs beat both the top-seeded team (Syracuse) and second-seeded team (Kansas State) in their region. They are 32-4 and have two stellar players in sophomore forward Gordon Hayward (the Horizon League Player of the Year) and sophomore guard Shelvin Mack, who had the audacity to pick Butler as his college choice over Kentucky.

Yeah, let that one sink in too – the Lexington, Ky., native could have stayed home and played for the famous Wildcats and instead picked Butler, a private university with just over 4,000 students.

A nice caveat for Butler’s first-ever foray into the Final Four is that the games are in Indianapolis at the new Lucas Oil Stadium, located just more than five miles away from Butler’s campus. The Bulldogs will be the prohibitive favorites of those in attendance when they battle the Spartans (28-8) on Saturday.

Butler’s coach, 33-year-old Brad Stevens, is so young looking he’d get carded trying to enter an 18-and-over club. But he’s a darn good coach with the big question being how long he remains at Butler before some major college comes knocking with a million-dollar-plus offer.

Probably the biggest hurdle for Butler on Saturday is Michigan State’s coach, the great Tom Izzo. This is the Spartans’ sixth Final Four appearance in 12 years – and the second in a row – and there isn’t an overabundance of national champion-caliber talent on the roster. Izzo is a master when it comes to coaching in the NCAA tournament and you know he’s been working overtime to come up with a plan that will end Butler’s run.

Saturday’s other game is Duke (33-5) against West Virginia (31-6). How funny is it that a Final Four matchup between an Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse program and the best team the Big East has to offer is only the second-most intriguing day of the game?

But that’s what the presence of Butler has done to this year’s Final Four. The Bulldogs are overlooked all the time during the regular season but they are the stars of this year’s national semifinals — the best basketball-viewing day of the year.

And I’m ready to hit the pillow dreaming of scenarios that enable Butler to be playing in Monday’s national championship game.

That noisy celebration you think you heard after Duke beat Baylor on Sunday night wasn’t coming just from Durham, N.C., or Duke alums scattered across the nation.

It was coming from CBS.

The network badly didn’t want to have to televise a Final Four without a No. 1 seed for the second time in five seasons. The ratings fell sharply from the previous year the last time CBS didn’t have a one seed among the final four teams.

That was in 2006 – the tournament where George Mason was repeatedly taking out the big-name programs during its historic Final Four run. You just know a final quartet of Butler, Michigan State, West Virginia and Baylor would have sent CBS into shock a full six days before the event started.

But Duke (33-5) restores a small semblance of order by cracking the Final Four with a 78-71 victory over Baylor. Those sharp winds you think you felt in your area Sunday evening were actually CBS executives breathing a heavy sigh of relief.

So get ready for the upcoming love fest between CBS and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. It’s Duke’s 11th Final Four trip under Coach K but its first since 2004. That is quite a drought for the Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse program.

The Blue Devils last won a national title in 2001 but first must get past a tough West Virginia squad in Saturday’s Final Four. Michigan State and Butler, the hometown team, meet in the other national semifinal game in Indianapolis.

Duke got past Baylor even though star player Kyle Singler (five points) missed all 10 of his field-goal attempts. But Nolan Smith stepped up with 29 points and Duke was strong on the boards, getting numerous second chances thanks to 22 offensive rebounds.

Baylor (28-8) reaching the Final Four would have been a great story. The program was a mess after Patrick Dennehy was shot to death in the summer of 2003 by teammate Carlton Dotson. Then-coach Dave Bliss tried to cover up what happened and everything crumbled, and not just Bliss’ reputation.

Scott Drew took on the challenge and has done an incredible job rebuilding the Bears. Baylor reached the NCAA tournament two years ago, played in the NIT title game last season and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament this season.

It’s hard to believe Baylor was after picked to finish 10th in the Big 12 this season with talented players like LaceDarius Dunn (22 points), Michigan transfer Ekpe Udoh (18 points) and Tweety Carter (12 points) on the roster. The Bears fell short against Duke on Sunday but can still hold their heads high after putting together the best season in school history.

Michigan State back in Final Four

Michigan State is in the Final Four for the sixth time in 12 years after outlasting Tennessee 70-69 in an entertaining contest on Sunday.

The Spartans (28-8) lost to North Carolina in last year’s title game and are persevering despite the loss of team leader Kalin Lucas to a torn Achilles’ tendon.

Raymar Morgan’s free throw with 1.8 seconds provided the winning point as coach Tom Izzo’s postseason success in regional finals continues to be out of the world. The Spartans are now 6-1 under Izzo when a Final Four berth has been on the line. Izzo’s Spartans won the 2000 national title by beating Florida.

Tennessee (28-9) had never previously advanced to the Elite Eight before this year’s appearance under coach Bruce Pearl. Think about this: The Volunteers’ stay in the men’s tournament was longer than the length in which the school’s vaunted women’s program coached by legendary Pat Summitt lasted in the women’s tourney.