NPR logo Final Four Dreams On The Line This Weekend


Final Four Dreams On The Line This Weekend

Kentucky freshmen John Wall, left, and DeMarcus Cousins have their eyes on a shot at a national championship. They meet West Virginia Saturday night. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images hide caption

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Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Kentucky freshmen John Wall, left, and DeMarcus Cousins have their eyes on a shot at a national championship. They meet West Virginia Saturday night.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

A mid-major looking to scale new heights will meet the second best team in Kansas Saturday as Elite Eight play begins in the men's NCAA basketball tournament.

Later in the evening, the champion of the SEC will take on the champion of the Big East in a game that the oddsmakers had in mind when the field of 64 was drawn up two wild weeks ago.

But first, that mid-major. No. 5 seed Butler — playing out of the Horizon League — would just like to be back home again in Indiana. But not until next week, when Final Four play begins in Indianapolis.

To get there, the Bulldogs will have to get past a Kansas State team loaded with experience and playing with a vengeance after spending most of the season in the shadow of their in-state rival, the University of Kansas.

This is Butler's first-ever trip to the Elite Eight and Kansas State hasn't been there since 1964. But both are enjoying their best seasons in many years, remaining highly ranked despite taking on difficult schedules — and both showed their mettle in squeaking through tight early round games to get this far.

Butler edged Murray State to get to the Sweet Sixteen and Kansas State needed double overtime to get past Xavier.

The Butler-Kansas State game, which tips off at about 4:30 p.m. EDT, sets the stage for a battle of highly regarded, tournament-tested foes in the nightcap.

Kentucky, led by several freshmen bound for the NBA, is one of two No. 1 seeds left in the running. They were expected to be playing for a shot at the title. But West Virginia, which won the Big East tournament, has prevailed so far despite losing point guard Daryl Bryant to injury before round three.

The Kentucky-West Virginia matchup also features two of the college game's most successful coaches —- and both are in essence starting over at these schools.

John Calipari, who took teams at U. Mass and Memphis to the

Final Four, now finds himself at the helm of one of the college game's most storied programs.

Bob Huggins, who built Cincinnati into a powerhouse, appears to have the West Virginia Mountaineers back on top.

Sunday's Games

On Sunday, two more matchups will complete the lineup for the Final Four.

No. 6 seed Tennessee, playing out of the SEC, will get a second straight shot at a Big 10 champion in No. 5 seed Michigan State, which shared the regular season title with Ohio State and Purdue.

It was Ohio State that Tennessee knocked off Friday night to advance. But while the No. 2 seed Buckeyes didn't play up to expectations this year, Coach Tom Izzo's Spartans have once again battled their way into the Elite Eight, overcoming a season-ending injury to point guard Kalin Lucas.

Despite its long basketball history — and phenomenal success in women's play — Tennessee is making its first Elite Eight experience.

Also on Sunday, No. 1 seed Duke, the ACC champion, will stare down No. 3 seed Baylor, which like Kansas State spent the year slogging through the highly competitive Big 12.

Duke has been there before, but not so much lately. The Blue Devils are back in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2004, led by their "Big Three" of Kyle Singler, John Scheyer and Nolan Smith.

They wore down a depleted Purdue team Friday night for the chance to take on up-and-coming Baylor, which will counter with leading scorer LaceDarius Dunn and running mate Tweety Carter.

The Bears were last in the round of eight in 1950, when there were only eight teams in the field. But they overpowered upstart Saint Mary's 72-49 on Friday night with solid outside shooting and vicious inside defense.