West Virginia vs. Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Duke, seeded No. 2 in the West Regional, boasted eight McDonald’s high school all-Americans.
West Virginia, seeded No. 7, had none.
This was a mismatch. Not even the most ardent West Virginia fan could argue the Mountaineers were as individually gifted as the Blue Devils.
But it isn’t the most talented group of individuals that wins basketball games, rather it is the best team.
West Virginia was the best team that day, when it stunned Duke, 73-67.
Now, two seasons later, West Virginia and Duke will meet again -at 8:47 p.m. Saturday in Indianapolis.
This time, the stakes are much higher. This time, the winner advances to the NCAA national championship game.
A title game that will see the Duke-West Virginia winner be favored over whoever wins the other semifinal, which features Michigan State and Butler.
Minutes after Duke put away Baylor on Sunday night in the South Regional championship game, Las Vegas oddsmakers installed the Blue Devils as 2-point favorites over the Mountaineers. That number lasted less than 15 minutes as the early bettors -those who wait for the line to come out hoping to pounce on what they perceive as a soft number -wagered on Duke, moving the line to 3.
What does that mean? It means that the sharps, as they are known, believe Duke is going to win and win by more than the point spread. They’re usually right or they wouldn’t be known as sharps. But even the sharpest of them only will win 60 percent of the time, so don’t go thinking all is lost for WVU.
By the way, Butler was made a 1-point favorite over Michigan State and immediately was bet up to 1.
After watching all four semifinalists play, it’s pretty obvious the winner of the Duke-West Virginia game will be a solid favorite in the national championship game next Monday night.
As he always does, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has done an incredible coaching job getting the Spartans to Indianapolis, but this is a team that lost its starting point guard to injury (sound familiar) and arguably was the third best team in the Big Ten.
Butler, meanwhile, is the best story. The Bulldogs won the Horizon League, going 18-0 in conference play. Even though they were ranked in the top 12 nationally, Butler was given a No. 5 seed in the West Region.
After watching the Bulldogs beat UTEP, Murray State, Syracuse and Kansas State, we now know that was disrespectful. This is a well-coached team that will be playing the Final Four nearly in the shadow of its campus. Butler is a Cinderella that may be celebrating the national title before the clock strikes midnight on Monday.
It’s the most improbable Final Four in recent memory. But with West Virginia one of the four, it’s going to be an exciting week around these parts.
Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org