Final Four features familiar, unusual

Published 6:18 am Monday, March 29, 2010

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 those 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.

The Tar Heels didn’t make the tournament this year.

Raymar Morgan, Durrell Summers and Korie Lucious helped picked up the slack. Michigan State also benefited from being in the most topsy-turvy region in a tournament that long will be remembered.