The Best 2010 NCAAB Championship Game Debate… Avoiding 0-North Carolina

March 29, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

What an exciting NCAA Tournament this season. Exciting finishes? Check. Adversity overcome? Check. Solid, battle-tested teams? Check.

The excitement of the tournament at large is now over. It’s time for the best teams to get down to business and decide who the champion is. It’s time for the writers here at The Sports Debates to provide three opinions on which potential championship game matchup would be the best. For me, the answer is clear. The best possible matchup would be the Michigan State Spartans against the Duke Blue Devils.

It is not secret that I have a bias toward Michigan State because of the incredible respect I have for head coach Tom Izzo. While other certain writers here grab at the opportunity to poke fun of my enthusiastic and healthy respect for Izzo, the fact remains that the coach has again achieved what few thought was possible for his team this March. For the second time in the last decade Izzo has taken a fifth seeded team to the Final Four. The road has not been easy, either in opponent or in circumstance. A first round victory over New Mexico State was solid but expected. A tough win over a hard-nosed Maryland team – in spite of losing Big Ten Player of the Year and team star Kalin Lucas to a season-ending Achilles Heel injury – was amazing and unexpected. Notch two more wins over tournament Cinderella Northern Iowa (sorry Butler, you are too good to be fitted for a glass slipper) and a very tough Tennessee team, and Izzo’s Spartans have achieved victory over great basketball teams and a healthy stroke of bad luck.

Duke is an excellent basketball team that earned its number one seed. With only one blemish on the team’s record since January 31, Duke ramped up to the NCAA Tournament with a string of workman-like victories over good teams. The team has incredible scoring balance with Jon Scheyer connecting from the perimeter for 18 points per game and Brian Zoubek manning the middle for nearly eight rebounds and the team’s highest shooting percentage of over 64 percent. Kyle Singler provides versatile scoring as well. Duke is a deserving number one seed that has played the entire tournament with the poise and consistency of a properly seeded team.

Besides the fact that both teams are so good, a potential matchup would be incredibly entertaining because of potential player matchups. Zoubek is accustomed, at least in ACC play, of staying down low in the post and fending off talent like Derrick Favors from Georgia Tech (a Loyal Homer favorite). Michigan State’s Draymond Green, however, is a player unlike any that Zoubek has faced. Green has the size of Favors, with the ball handling and perimeter shooting ability of Clemson’s Trevor Booker. And better decision making than both combined. While the Spartans are missing Lucas, point guard Korie Lucious has really stepped up for the team. He has connected on more long range jumpers, grabbed more rebounds, played better defense, and played a lot more minutes for the team while the star is absent. His in your face defensive style – combined with his quickness – will be an interesting matchup for Scheyer who prefers to stay on the perimeter but can get to the basket when necessary. Singler will match very well with Raymar Morgan at both ends of the floor. Each team features more talent than just the players mentioned here, but these are the three matchups that I find most intriguing.

What is also interesting about these teams is how their respective conferences shaped them in one way or another. For Duke, it appears that the team is excellent in spite of the overall lacking conference the team played in during the regular season. The ACC disappointed virtually every time it was thrust on to the national stage. But Duke remained solid, proving it could succeed in a national tournament setting despite an unchallenging conference schedule to sift through. Opposite of Duke is Michigan State, a team that that is good because of the Big Ten schedule it played. The Big Ten was the only conference to have three teams present in the Sweet Sixteen, and with good reason. The consistent toughness and defense-first approach of the Big Ten always translates well in March… even if the brand of basketball lacks the sex appeal to be featured in a series of nationally televised games.

I am not in the prediction business. There is good reason for that, too. But am I in the geek business. My geeky instincts tell me Michigan State has a great opportunity here. Having beaten a Maryland team that already defeated Duke this season, the Spartans – provided they are able to get past an extremely balanced and talented Butler team – have earned the confidence to win the championship. Duke certainly is an excellent team, especially considering how it handled Purdue… a team the Spartans split with during the regular season. It just seems like the Spartans are tougher than Duke – especially on defense. Toughness matters in March. Toughness is also an Izzo trademark.

Michigan State was not expected to make the Final Four. Duke was, but is not playing as though it expected to. Both teams and coaches are to be commended for that. Given the obvious potential ratings and the potential coach and player matchups, the best possible championship matchup is Michigan State and Duke.

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The Best 2010 NCAAB Championship Game Debate… There Should Be a First Time for Everything

March 29, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

Duke and Michigan State have made the Final Four… yawn!

In no way are my comments intended to diminish the impressive accomplishment that both schools have made. But let’s be honest – it is nothing new. And in this March Madness tournament, where the unprecedented has become the only precedent, there just is not any room on my wish list for programs and coaches who visit the Final Four with the same seeming regularity as my weekly trips to the grocery store.

Their counterparts, however, in the collection of 2010 NCAA Tournament Regional Champions are about to experience something altogether new.

It has been more than 50 years since the West Virginia Mountaineers last reached the Final Four with a shot to compete for the national championship, and 2010 marks the first time since the Calvin Coolidge administration that the Butler Bulldogs are in consideration for the nation’s top basketball prize. In this tournament of firsts, it only seems fitting that the championship matchup should pit two teams against each other that are competing for their first ever tournament title.

More important is the fact that both West Virginia and Butler are more deserving of the crown than Duke and Michigan State.

To begin with, neither of these teams should be a surprise as Final Four participants. Although Butler is coming out of the mid-major Horizon League Conference, they are the owners of the longest active winning streak in the country with their last loss coming at the hands of UAB BEFORE Christmas last year! Throughout the season they faced off against (and defeated) some of the top teams in the country, including victories over Ohio State and Xavier, both of whom were Sweet Sixteen teams.

As for West Virginia, the Mountaineers simply have too much talent on the floor to be stopped. In a year where much of the talent within the “usual” Big East powerhouses would be lacking (I TOLD YOU SO!), the combination of Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, and Joe Mazzulla was more than enough to carry the Big East banner deep into the 2010 tournament. Behind their seemingly re-invented head coach, Bob Huggins, this Mountaineers team has played like a team of destiny all season long.

Next, when comparing the tournament roads that each of the respective regional champions took to get to the Final Four, Butler and West Virginia have clearly faced off against the tougher competition, and both have survived intact. Butler had to take on and defeat both of the top two teams within their region (Syracuse and Kansas State) in order to continue the nation’s longest active win-streak. West Virginia was handed the task of beating the Kentucky Wildcats, a team which led the rankings as the nation’s top program for much of the 2009-2010 season (at least when Kansas wasn’t).

Compare that to Duke, who coasted into the Final Four as the beneficiaries of the weakest regional draw in the tournament, or to Michigan State, who played lesser-ranked teams in both of their Sweet Sixteen (against ninth-seeded Northern Iowa) and Elite Eight (versus sixth-seeded Tennessee) matchups.

While Butler and West Virginia were busy taking care of the so-called best teams in the country, Duke and Michigan State simply sat back and let other teams do all the hard work, while they just cleaned up the scraps.

Butler and West Virginia have already proven to be the best two teams remaining in the tournament, because they have both BEATEN the teams previously recognized as the best in the tournament. A championship game featuring these two teams would provide one of the most entertaining and dramatic tournament finals in memory.

If we have learned anything from the 2010 March Madness tournament, it is that the “establishment” needs to be shaken up a little bit. What was once considered gospel in the world of college basketball can no longer be counted on. The tried and true principles that we have assigned to the game of college hoops for years no longer seems viable, and we are now forced with redefining our criteria for recognizing the top teams in the country. It is time to see some new faces on top of the heap, and what better way to cap off this season of revolution than with a Butler-West Virginia national championship?.

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The Best 2010 NCAAB Championship Game Debate… A Duke-Butler Matchup Salvages the Final Four

March 29, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan.

I will be the first to admit that I am not terribly excited about this year’s Final Four. Yes, it is the Final Four. Yes, I will be watching because I am a sports fan. But it is not something I am going to anticipate all week. In my roughly 20 years or of picking a March Madness bracket, this is the first time EVER that I have not gotten one team right in the Final Four. My Final Four consisted of Villanova, Kentucky, Kansas State, and Kansas… and I know a lot of you had at least two of those teams in your bracket. Some of you may have had West Virginia or Duke, but how many of you had Michigan State or Butler? I actually had Butler in the Elite Eight, but not the Final Four. Nevertheless, here we are with our four teams, and we will make the best of it. CBS has to be cringing at the ratings that could be coming their way. Duke, and to some extent, Michigan State, have national followings, but the other two really do not. (Do you think the casual fan can name more than five players participating in Indianapolis Saturday night?) However, putting aside ratings and name recognition, I think the best matchup would be the Duke Blue Devils against the Butler Bulldogs.

I know the popular sentiment is going to want to see Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski battle it out for the right to cut down the nets ( Sports Geek, in his love for Izzo, is hyping that dream matchup today). But in following the underlying theme of this year’s NCAA tournament, I want a powerhouse versus Cinderella matchup. Butler’s status as a Cinderella-type sleeper team Butler is debatable, but we will actually touch on that in another debate later this week.

Butler, in case you have not noticed, has had a very strong season. They have not lost since December 22, 2009. They went undefeated in the Horizon League. They have a coach in Brad Stevens who looks young enough to be the son of the other three coaches. The media guide states he is 33 years old, but I don’t believe it. Either way, out of the four teams left, Butler is the team that is the obvious underdog.

Duke, meanwhile, fully expected to be in this position. Even as a number one seed they have had their share of haters – including me – but here they are at their first Final Four in six years. They won yesterday despite Kyle Singler not having a single field goal, as he went 0-10 from the field. But Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith stepped up to help the Blue Devils beat the crowd favorite Baylor.

It will not exactly be David versus Goliath, but keep in mind this is unchartered water for Butler. Butler also would have strong support from the crowd, as their campus is right there in Indianapolis. But Duke, love them or hate them, has the national following and is the favorite. That is the kind of matchup we need in this season’s championship game.

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