washingtonpost.com
Clarification to This Article
John Feinstein's column said that Kentucky's loss in this year's regional finals meant that, as far as the NCAA is concerned, Coach John Calipari still has not coached in a Final Four. Feinstein was referring to the fact that, while Calipari did coach Massachusetts to the Final Four in 1996 and Memphis to the championship game in 2008, the NCAA later vacated both Final Four records because of rule violations.
NCAA Final Four matchups may not be perfect, but they're pretty close

By John Feinstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2010; D01

There may not be such a thing as a perfect Final Four, but the one that will begin on Saturday in Indianapolis comes pretty close.

It has a Cinderella practically playing on its home court.

It has a team that hasn't been to the Final Four in 51 years but is going back after a prodigal son came home.

It has a team whose coach always seems to find a way this time of year, playing in its sixth Final Four in 12 seasons.

And it has a villain, the team people love to hate, whether because it wins so often or because people have to have someone to root against once their team has gone home.

Those four teams, in case you spent the weekend wondering who the Redskins are going to draft, are Butler (Cinderella), West Virginia (prodigal son); Michigan State (coach who finds a way) and Duke (villain). Butler and Michigan State, both No. 5 seeds going into the tournament, will play the first game and Duke and West Virginia, a No. 1 and a No. 2, will play in the second game.

Before looking at those games, let's not forget who isn't going to be playing at Lucas Oil Stadium. To begin with, three of the four No. 1 seeds -- Kansas, Syracuse and Kentucky. Each went out a round apart: Kansas losing to Northern Iowa in the second round, Syracuse in the round of 16 to Butler and Kentucky to West Virginia in the Elite Eight.

Anyone who has seen West Virginia play could not have been surprised by the outcome in Syracuse on Saturday night. The Mountaineers play exactly as they are coached to play by Bob Huggins -- always intense, always angry, never satisfied. Whether they are playing the 1-3-1 zone that completely baffled Kentucky or man-to-man, they are in the opponent's face on every defensive possession. They have an absolutely fearless shooter in Da'Sean Butler. They are mature -- juniors and seniors are the core of this team -- and they aren't likely to be shaken by a close game or the need for a big basket or a big stop.

Kentucky simply wasn't as mature or as tough. Talented? There are at least four sure-fire NBA players on John Calipari's team. West Virginia might have one. But the Wildcats were done in by their inability to work the ball inside against the West Virginia zone and by what has so often been the Achilles' heel of Calipari teams: free throw shooting.

The funny thing about Kentucky's loss is that with all the hype surrounding John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, the Wildcats end their season in the same sentence with Tennessee, Kansas State and Baylor: teams that were good enough to come one step short of the Final Four.

No doubt Calipari will recruit another wave of future NBA stars and continue to put up huge numbers but, at least as far as the NCAA is concerned, he still hasn't coached in a Final Four.

Neither have Bruce Pearl, Frank Martin or Scott Drew but -- like Calipari -- each has a lot to feel good about in spite of their losses last weekend. Pearl took Tennessee to a region final for the first time in school history. The Volunteers, in spite of their midseason turmoil, got their act together when it mattered and won a terrific game on Friday night against Ohio State, a team a lot of people had ticketed for Indianapolis. Then they rallied from eight down in the second half to lead before losing, 70-69, to Michigan State.

Martin can take solace in the fact that his Kansas State team won the best game of the tournament in the round of 16, beating Xavier, 101-96, in double overtime. It may also have taken just enough out of the Wildcats' legs to make a difference in the game against Butler.

And Drew should be happy that he has taken a Baylor team that was in disarray seven years ago after the death of Patrick Dennehy and the myriad NCAA rules violations committed by then-coach Dave Bliss and his staff and rebuilt it into a team that was a couple of plays away from reaching the Final Four.

As for the survivors, four years after George Mason went to Indianapolis as the most shocking Final Four team since Penn's run in 1979, Butler has done something not as remarkable but certainly in the ballpark. The Bulldogs were a No. 5 seed going in and this was the third year in the last seven that they reached the Sweet 16. If you throw in the fact that Butler's campus is six miles from the dome and that almost everyone making the trip to Indy will have to make a pilgrimage to Hinkle Field House to make sure the baskets are 10 feet high and the free throw line is 15 feet away, you have a fabulous story.

Throw this in too: The Bulldogs can win. There is no clear favorite in this Final Four.

The two teams truly capable of dominant performances -- Kansas and Kentucky -- have been sent home. Michigan State and Coach Tom Izzo have done amazing work to get this far without point guard Kalin Lucas, who ruptured his Achilles' tendon in the second-round game against Maryland. To count the Spartans out against anyone at this point would be insane.

West Virginia and Duke are very similar: experienced, used to playing close games, excellent rebounding teams that play outstanding half-court defense. West Virginia played in a better, deeper league during the season and beat the team picked by most to win the tournament (after Kansas lost) in its region final. Duke had to play what was almost a road game against Baylor in its region final in Houston. When someone asked Mike Krzyzewski -- who tied Dean Smith by reaching his 11th Final Four, one behind John Wooden's all-time record of 12 -- if he was concerned that Duke would have a target on its back as the last No. 1 seed standing, he laughed.

"We've had a target on our back for about 25 years now," the Blue Devils coach said. "We expect that wherever we play."

He's got that right. Cinderella; prodigal son; team and coach that find a way; villain. It should be a great Final Four.

For more from the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company