INDIANAPOLIS -- The Final Four this year features three coaches who are considered among the biggest names in college basketball -- Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State's Tom Izzo and West Virginia's Bob Huggins.
And then there is Butler coach Brad Stevens, who is only 33 and still baby-faced (so much so that he was mistaken for a player Thursday), yet has his team in the Final Four in only his third season.
Stevens was asked if he is ever intimidated when he coaches against a so-called coaching legend.
"When I first got the job at Butler, one of the best pieces of advice was from [former Pitt standout and current Arizona coach] Sean Miller, a good friend," Stevens said. "He said it is hard when you take over a program that has always been successful because you're always thinking about ways that it has been done, but that most important thing you can do is be yourself.
"So I am who I am and my age is what it is. My age has no factor on how our team plays and my job is just to try to get them to play as well as we can."
Butler (32-4), who will play Michigan State (28-8) at 6:07 p.m. today at Lucas Oil Stadium in the first national semifinal, plays a rugged defensive style and likes to play at a slower pace than most teams.
"We just want to try and win," Stevens said. "Style of play is a little bit overblown, tempo is a little bit overblown. At the end of the day, it is who you are playing and what you think you can be advantageous in attacking them."
Although Butler is a mid-major program by definition, the Bulldogs are not at all a so-called cinderella team such as the 2006 George Mason team, which came out of nowhere to make the Final Four.
The Bulldogs were ranked No. 11 in the preseason Associated Press poll and No. 10 in the coaches poll, feature a bona fide NBA prospect in Gordon Hayward and have non-conference victories against Xavier and Ohio State.
"For the past couple of years they have been ranked in the top 20 or top 10," said Michigan State guard Korie Lucious about Butler. "I don't think we can underestimate them and nobody in the country should because they've been playing great basketball and they've beaten some great teams."
West Virginia point guard "Truck" Bryant (foot) practiced Friday in an open practice but didn't move very well and clearly had trouble making cuts. Huggins said he remains highly doubtful to play tonight against Duke in the second national semifinal. ... Huggins and Krzyzewski said the game won't change their friendship. "We're great friends," Krzyzewski said. "And my wife and his wife are really good friends. And whoever wins, we'll still be really good friends." ...West Virginia will receive $1 million from the Big East Conference's share of NCAA tournament revenue for making the Final Four.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published April 3, 2010 4:00 AM