Final Four cashing in few blue chips

Never mind point spreads, computer rankings or ouija boards. The safest way to pick the winner at the NCAA Final Four has long been to call NBA scouting director Marty Blake, ask him to identify which team starts the most first-round draft picks and ignore any other analysis.

Blake calls it his "Blue-Chip Formula," and he's been sharing it for more than two decades.

The floor at Lucas Oil Stadium is now open for alternative suggestions.

This Final Four, the one that includes Duke, West Virginia, Butler and Michigan State, takes a massive chip out of the Blue-Chip Formula. The only certain lottery picks in Indianapolis Saturday will be the fans who won their seats in the ticket lottery. Good luck trying to find a correlation between the rosters of these four teams and the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft.

Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks of West Virginia are first-round maybes. Ditto for Kyle Singler, Duke's junior forward.

Gordon Hayward, Butler's splendid sophomore, has perhaps played his way into the end of the first round -- if he's even thinking about leaving. Michigan State's most likely pro, point guard Kalin Lucas, will be lugging crutches because of a ruptured Achilles' tendon. This is no NBA beauty contest.

"The megastar that maybe you normally seem to find in these Final Fours maybe isn't there," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I think it's refreshing that you're looking at four teams that 'team' is maybe the most important thing."

"When you look at the four teams that made it, there is one common theme," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. "All four of them are really programs .

"That's not saying these teams don't have great players. They do. But the individuals that are standing out are standing out for doing team things."

This is not the way this tournament was supposed to play out. Indianapolis was supposed to be packed with the likes of John Wall, Evan Turner, DeMarcus Cousins, Cole Aldrich, Wesley Johnson and Greg Monroe. That's the way of the Final Four. Mega-stars rule.

Check the videotape. There were four first-round picks in the 2009 Final Four -- three starting for the North Carolina team that won the title. The 2008 gathering was more talented -- five first rounders, including Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur on the Kansas team that won the championship.

In 2007 in Atlanta, you couldn't move without bumping into a first-round pick. Eight first rounders were spread across the four teams. The Florida team that won the title had Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah, three of the first nine draft selections.

At least one member of the NCAA championship team has been taken in the first round of that season's NBA draft in 11 of the past 12 years. The exception? It wasn't really much of an exception. The year was 2006, when all of Billy Donovan's top players returned to Florida to win another NCAA title and then dominated the next NBA draft.

This Final Four is certainly different. You can see the trend start to emerge if you go back and look at what some recruiting gurus were saying about the guys Duke, West Virginia, Michigan State and Butler recruited.

Duke will be the only team in Indianapolis with a single McDonald's All-American -- and the Blue Devils have six. Izzo hasn't signed a McDonald's All-American since he landed Shannon Brown and Brandon Cotton seven years ago.

There won't be many top-10 recruiting classes represented in Indianapolis this weekend, either. According to, Duke's had three in the past four years -- No. 4 in 2006, No. 6 in 2007 and the eighth-best class a year ago.

Michigan State and West Virginia each have had one -- No. 9 by the Spartans in 2007 and No. 10 by the Mountaineers in 2008. Don't even ask about Butler.

So many of the top guys who could still be playing college basketball -- Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson, Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, Tyreke Evans -- have already gone to the pros.

What we're left with is a different look. The ratio of senior starters to freshman starters on these four teams is 7-1 -- with Michigan State center Derrick Nix being the only freshman. All four teams will start at least one senior. Duke starts three.

"There's one game in the tournament where you really need that experience to step forward," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "It's necessary to have that experience to get you through those close games. These four teams all have that."

Even if this Final Four won't be an NBA beauty contest.