John Wall, despite his prodigious talent, isn’t at the Final Four. His Kentucky Wildcats were knocked out a game short. Ohio State’s Evan Turner flamed out, too, a round earlier. Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds didn’t even come close.
It’s Final Four time and the stars won’t be out. They’ll be at home or in the stands along with famous alums such as Magic Johnson, maybe Jay-Z or some other celebrity.
In their place will be teams.
Not four guys and a soon-to-have-his-own-shoe-line star. Five teammates who rely on each other, need help from those guys coming off the bench.
This Final Four will be won by the final fivesome.
“The megastar that maybe you normally seem to find in these Final Fours maybe isn’t there,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I think it’s refreshing that you’re looking at four teams that ‘team’ is maybe the most important thing.”
This Final Four isn’t devoid of star players. There are future pros and potential pros on every team.
Duke has the trio of Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer. Durrell Summers and Korie Lucious have turned it up in the tournament for Michigan State. Gordon Hayward has been the man at Butler, Da’Sean Butler Da’ man for West Virginia.
All are great players, capable of taking over a game at any time.
They’re just not top-of-the-marquee guys, like North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough last year, Derrick Rose of Memphis the year before.
These Final Four teams are straight off a Red Auerbach fundamentals video, playing defense, setting screens, getting everyone involved.
Without a true one-and-done-style star, it’s the only way they were able to reach the final weekend in Indianapolis.
“Nobody’s playing perfect — nobody’s even coming close to playing perfect,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “But the team that sticks to their plan, that does what they do as well as they can for 40 minutes has a great chance of winning.”
Michigan State has what may be the one bona fide star on the four rosters. Problem is, Kalin Lucas ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in a second-round game against Maryland and will spend the weekend in a walking boot.
The Spartans had to scratch and claw their way through injuries and conflicts during the season, and they’ve rallied around each other again since Lucas’ injury. Lucious has made a seamless slide into Lucas’ playmaking role, Summers has turned up his scoring and the rest of the players have picked up the slack any way they can.
“They’re a joy to watch as a coach and a bear to prepare for,” Stevens said.
The Bulldogs have been the epitome of the team concept.
Hayward has been the main cog in Butler’s NCAA run, but it’s the continuity of its team — every player from last year’s roster is back — and a connected-by-a-string cohesiveness at both ends of the floor that got the Bulldogs this far.
Butler has followed the mid-major gameplan to perfection and now gets a shot at the big boys, in its hometown, no less.
“This is a very special story for Butler and deservedly so,” Izzo said. “It’s not out of the clouds because they were picked in the top 10 all year. I mean, if I wasn’t playing them, I definitely would be a fan, I can promise you that.”
Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke teams have always been team-first and this year is no exception.
Scheyer, Smith and Singler are the Blue Devils’ go-to guys. It’s just that they seem to go to a different one every night.
Scheyer went 1-for-11 in the second round against California, but Smith and Singler made up for it by scoring 37 combined points. When Singler missed every shot in the regional final against Baylor, Smith scored a career-high 29 points and Scheyer broke free of his shooting slump, hitting five 3-pointers on the way to 20 points.
None is a superstar in his own right, but they form a three-headed headliner that has tradition-rich Duke back in the Final Four for the first time since 2004.
“They haven’t been given credit along their careers for what they are doing or for what they are trying to accomplish,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m really pleased for them.”
West Virginia has a singular star in Butler, the athletic senior who can reel off points in bunches and has a knack for coming through in big moments. Butler’s a likely future pro, but even he needs help sometimes, particularly early in the NCAA tournament when he was struggling to find his shot.
And when the shots aren’t falling for anyone— West Virginia isn’t a particularly good shooting team — the Mountaineers can turn to their defense. Coach Bob Huggins preaches a gritty, you-can’t-score-against-us approach to every possession and the Mountaineers have bought in, riding their defense into the Final Four for the first time since 1959.
“I think to advance in this tournament, you have to be able to defend,” Huggins said. “But I think that’s all the time. People do it different ways, but (it’s the defense).”
Yep, this is going to be a little different Final Four than we’re used to.
But, in a way, maybe it’s fitting.
This has been a strange NCAA tournament, filled with upsets, unexpected collapses by big-name teams, runs deep into the bracket by a rising tide of mid-majors.
The final games will be played in basketball-rich Indiana, where the team-first concept seems to be a part of the state constitution.
And what better place to finish it off, in Indianapolis, not far from Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the ultimate little-team-that-could story (“Hoosiers”) was filmed.
“It’s going to make for a good Final Four in a different way,” Izzo said. “It might be refreshing and enjoyable to watch teams that are going to have to rely on each other to advance a little bit more than maybe one person.”