x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Level playing court as 'March Madness' reaches final four

Duke, the South Region top seeds, face West Virginia, while the giant-killers, Butler, take on Michigan State.

Duke have dominated most teams this season on their way to a 33-5 record.
Duke have dominated most teams this season on their way to a 33-5 record.

One of the most unpredictable and compelling NCAA collegiate basketball tournaments in years draws to a close with a Final Four this weekend featuring traditional powers and smaller upstart teams. Duke, the South Region top seeds, face West Virginia in one semi-final tonight at the sold-out Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, while the giant-killers, Butler, take on Michigan State in the other.

Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke coach whose Atlantic Coast Conference champions, Blue Devils, are the only No 1 seeds to make it to the Final Four, said he was not surprised the 64-team event had been full of spectacular upsets. "For all of us coaches in college basketball today, no one's surprised that anybody beat another team," said Krzyzewski, who will be coaching in his 11th Final Four. "There just isn't the difference that there was a decade ago from the top, historic programmes and the emerging programmes.

"There are just a lot of good basketball teams right now." Duke (33-5) will have their hands full with Big East champions West Virginia, a defensive-minded team on a 10-game winning streak and making their first Final Four appearance since 1959. Bob Huggins, the Mountaineers coach, believes a victory by his 31-6 team in Monday's national title game would set off a party across the state of West Virginia.

"My grandfather never missed a game on the radio. There are certainly thousands of other people who grew up the same way," said Huggins, who played for the Mountaineers in the 1970s. "It's hard to get a grasp on how much it means to the state." The Michigan State versus Butler game features a traditional power facing a smaller upstart team whose campus is just six miles from the site of the Final Four.

Lovers of the underdog will be rooting for Horizon League champions Butler (32-4), who eliminated the top two seeds in the tournament's West Region, to beat the Spartans. Michigan State (28-8) were runners-up last year and have reached the Final Four in six of the past 12 years. "It's refreshing that you're looking at four teams [in] that 'team' is maybe the most important thing," said Tom Izzo, the Michigan State coach.

"It's going to make for a good Final Four in a different way." * Reuters