Final Four: Michigan St., Duke, West Va., And Butler

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The Duke Blue Devils are the only No. 1 team to reach the NCAA men's basketball Final Four. Other top seeds Kansas, Syracuse and Kentucky all lost. Duke will play East Regional champion West Virginia in the second national semifinal Saturday night. In the first semifinal game, Michigan State will play Butler. This is Butler's first trip to the big dance.


After ten days of what is traditionally, and in this case accurately, described as madness, the NCAA men's basketball tournament is now down to the final four teams. No other sport gets so excited for the semifinals, but that's maybe part of the charm of college basketball. NPR's Mike Pesca has been covering the tournament for us and he's with us now. Hi Mike.


KELLY: Hi. So let's start out - this was a tournament - talk about upsets, only one team that actually was in the final four was favored to make it to the final four, and that of course is the Duke Blue Devils, who I gather are making their first appearance in the final four since 2004.

PESCA: A little while, which for them I guess counts as a drought. And for their coach, Mike Krzyzewski who's had unparalleled success in the modern era, you know, you have to compare him to John Wooden, the great UCLA coach. They played a great game against Baylor.

Baylor, at times, looked absolutely up to the challenge. They had leads in the game. Baylor's an athletic team. But what happened in a game that's so close is that there were a few occasions, a few trips down the floor, where Duke was stymied in its initial attempt, but they got a rebound, passed it out to a three-point shooter, and then the three-point shooter made the shot. So here was Baylor playing good defense, a ball bounces the wrong way or Duke, you know, fights for a rebound, and they get nine straight so-called second chance shots. It's very hard, in a tight game, to withstand that. The Blue Devils win by seven.

The earlier game - yesterday, by the way - was Michigan State against Tennessee, another great and tight game. Michigan State wins by one. Their coach is Tom Izzo. He has made now six final fours, passing Bobby Knight who happened to be Mike Krzyzewski's mentor. So you have, I think, the two best coaches, the two most accomplished coaches in college basketball, both in the final four this year.

KELLY: OK. Now they're going to get around to playing the final four in Indianapolis, and there is one team that I gather won't have to travel very far to get there, and that's Butler.

PESCA: Butler is based in Indianapolis. They play in Hinkle Fieldhouse, built in 1920. You're going to hear a lot about Hinkle and Butler because they filmed the movie "Hoosiers" there, and that's a movie that Butler player, Willie Veasley, says he's watched over 200 times. You've got to think that that helps the team.

Now there are some conflicting reports. Google maps has it as 6.6 miles if you take North Capital from Hinkle Fieldhouse to the Lucas Oil Stadium where they're playing the final four. And Mapquest has it at slightly a shorter distance. But the home field advantage, the home court advantage, is going to come into play and Butler is the little known small school that is the - going to be the crowd favorite.

KELLY: OK. And as we mentioned, Duke, of course the lone number one seed that's left, am I right to assume that that means they're the favorite going in?

PESCA: Yeah, they are - well, I don't know if we can assume they're the favorite. They are the favorite. I've checked the Las Vegas odds. There are apparently people who care about these things out there. And yes, Duke is the favorite. And the second favorite team is West Virginia, who will be playing Duke. They're a number two seed.

So I guess the conventional wisdom is that the winner of that game should win the national championship, because on the other side of the bracket, it's seen as the weaker side, with Michigan State against Butler. Fair enough, you have to say, but hasn't this tournament told us that anything can happen.

KELLY: Well, and let's talk briefly, before I let you go, about the women's basketball tournament. Going in, Connecticut was far and away the favorite. Where do things stand now?

PESCA: They absolutely still are. They're at the stage that the men's tournament was this weekend. They're in their final eight. The notable things are that the two favorites, Connecticut and Stanford, no team has got - well, one team has gotten to within 30 points of them, and that was a 29-point Stanford victory.

And the other interesting thing is that Baylor and Duke women's teams are playing each other, and that's the first time that that has happened with the men's teams and the women's teams both meet in the final eight since the women changed its format.

KELLY: All right. Thanks very much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

KELLY: That's NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: This is NPR News.

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