Final Four betting action takes place at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night, and the first ticket to college basketball's grandest stage will be punched in the duel between the Michigan State Spartans and the Butler Bulldogs.
What's At Stake: For Michigan State, it will get a chance to play in its second straight National Championship Game in its sixth trip to the Final Four under HC Tom Izzo. Butler, the first Horizon League team ever to advance to the Elite 8, let alone the Final Four, will obviously be searching for its first championship in school history.
College Basketball Odds: Butler -1 at BetUS Sportsbook
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Michigan State Notes: Izzo's squad clearly has the experience advantage having been here and done this a year ago. However, without G Kalin Lucas in the lineup, this offense could look lost at times. Against the Volunteers in the Elite 8, there were moments of sheer brilliance for the Spartans, but there were also moments in which no one appeared ready to take the shot when it counted the most. Michigan State scored 72.4 points per game this year, and it has already proven that it can win a game in the manner that Butler wants to play at, as it knocked off #9 Northern Iowa 59-52 in the Sweet 16. However, the Spartans, in spite of the fact that they allow just 64.1 points per game, have the worst defense of the Final Four teams.
Butler Notes: There really isn't a logical reason to describe how the Bulldogs got past both #1 Syracuse and #2 Kansas State in a matter of two days last week aside from the fact that they're really, really good. Now, they'll put a 24-game winning streak, the longest in the nation, on the line just seven miles from their own campus at Lucas Oil Stadium. Defense carried this team here, as all four tourney foes were held under 60 points, and defense is what must win it for the Horizon League champs, because there just aren't enough scorers on this team to shoot it out with the talented Spartans.
Players to Watch
G Durrell Summers, Michigan State Spartans: Without Lucas in the starting five, someone had to step up and take over the scoring load for Sparty, and that's exactly what Summers has done. He has put together three straight games of at least 19 points scored, and he's probably the best MVP candidate on this team right now. Summers can stroke it from long range and slice to the basket with equal proficiency, and he'll be the difference maker if MSU is going back to the big show on Monday night.
F Gordon Hayward, Butler Bulldogs: Hayward saved arguably his best game of the season for one of the most important stages that he'll ever play on. He put up 22 points and brought in nine boards against Kansas State last weekend to help boost the Bulldogs to the Final Four. It's been awhile since Hayward has recorded a double-double (five straight games after posting five straight double-doubles), but he's proving that he can play with anyone in the land, averaging 16.0 points per game in the tourney so far and having his best two games against his toughest two foes.
Trends of Note
-Michigan State is 25-10-1 ATS in its L/26 NCAA Tournament tussles
-Michigan State is 9-4 ATS in its L/13 games against Horizon League foes
-Michigan state is 4-0 ATS in its L/4 NCAA Tournament games as underdogs of less than seven points
-Butler is 5-1-1 ATS in its L/7 games against the Big Ten
-Butler is 43-21-1 ATS in its L/65 games outside of the Horizon League
-Butler is 3-10 ATS in its L/13 games following an ATS victory.
Final Analysis: This is the classic battle of youth versus experience. If exuberance and a slight home court advantage prove to be the difference, it'll be Butler that marches on. However, we're talking about a team coached by a Hall of Famer who has won in the most hostile of territories known in the college basketball world. Izzo knows what he's doing, and so does the rest of his team. This is unfinished business for the Spartans. They'll move on to the final and burst Cinderella's bubble.
Selection: Michigan State +1