Men's Basketball

Final Four a mix of the old, new

There's a coach they call "Huggy Bear" and a team better known for its fieldhouse than its players. There's a Final Four regular that hardly anyone figured would get this far and, bringing a wee bit of normalcy back to the party, there is Duke.

One of the most unpredictable NCAA tournaments in recent history served up a bit of the familiar for the Final Four — and a good dose of something completely different.

Coached by Bob "Huggy Bear" Huggins, West Virginia will make its first appearance since 1959, back when Jerry West played guard. Its opponent Saturday will be Duke, the only No. 1 seed to make it to Indianapolis.

The other game features Butler against Michigan State in a meeting of two No. 5 seeds — the first time that's happened.

Butler, enrollment 4,500, plays in the gym where they filmed the basketball classic Hoosiers and is making its first Final Four appearance. Michigan State is making its sixth and perhaps most unexpected trip in the past 12 years.

"I talked to them this morning about separating themselves," said Spartans Coach Tom Izzo, at the helm for all the Final Four trips. "We've gone through a lot of things this year, not as bad as sometimes portrayed, and yet not as smooth as some years that we've had."

The Spartans (28-8) defeated Tennessee 70-69 on Sunday to win the Midwest Regional despite the loss of one of their top players, Kalin Lucas, who tore his Achilles tendon last week.

They still have the core of the team that made the national final last year in an inspiring run that ended close to home, in Detroit, with a blowout loss to North Carolina, which didn't make the tournament this year.

The Spartans needed a buzzer-beating three-point shot against Maryland to advance to the round of 16 — the kind of shot that could make a team wonder if there might be something special going on.

Speaking of destiny ... Butler (32-4) will bring a 24-game winning streak to Lucas Oil Stadium — which happens to be only about a 10-minute drive from campus.

The Bulldogs are the first team since UCLA in 1972 to play a Final Four in their hometown. They play and practice in Hinkle Fieldhouse, the gym where scenes from the ultimate hoops underdog story was filmed.

The other game pits No. 2 West Virginia against No. 1 Duke.

This is the first time since 2004 that only one No. 1 has made it to the Final Four. (None made it in 2006, the year No. 11 George Mason captured America's imagination.) The year 2004 was also the last time Duke and Coach Mike Krzyzewski made it.

Returning after a much longer time away is Huggins, who made it in 1992 when he coached Cincinnati. Since then he's been on a coaching odyssey that has included trouble with the NCAA, a heart attack and a one-year stop at Kansas State before he returned to his alma mater in Morgantown.

Through it all, there has been a lot of winning. The latest was Saturday's 73-66 upset over No. 1 Kentucky in the East Regional that put the Mountaineers (31-6) in the Final Four for the first time since 1959 — back when West was their biggest star.

Huggins wants his team thinking about making it to Monday night's final, and winning there, as well.

"I talked to them about trying to be special," he said. "If we can somehow find a way to win a couple more, that will be really special."

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