DUKE VS. BUTLER
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Tonight, 9:21 p.m.
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
TV/Radio: CBS3/ESPN (950-AM, 97.5 FM)
Records: Duke 34-5; Butler 33-4
History: The only game was on Jan. 30, 2003. Duke won 80-60 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
How they got here: No. 1 seed Duke beat No. 16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 73-44, No. 8 California, 68-53, No. 4 Purdue, 70-57, No. 3 Baylor, 78-71 and No. 2 West Virginia, 78-57. No. 5 Butler beat No. 12 UTEP, 77-59, No. 13 Murray State, 54-52, No. 1 Syracuse, 63-59, No. 2 Kansas State, 63-56 and No. 5 Michigan State, 52-50.
Coaches: Mike Krzyzewski is 794-218 in 30 years at Duke and 867-279 in 35 years overall. Brad Stevens is 89-14 in 3 years at Butler.
Three things Duke must do:
1. Play with the confidence, intelligence and poise it did during the semifinal romp against West Virginia. Every player was locked into that game and it showed in the result.
2. Own the offensive glass and get those second-chance threes that kill an opponent's will. Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas have been relentless in going after missed shots.
3. Defend all those Butler ball screens in a way they don't end up with too many mismatches. Butler's wings are very quick and very crafty. If they are living in the gaps and making plays, that will be an issue for Duke.
Three things Butler must do:
1. Make certain all of Duke's Big Three don't go off. Butler's coaches will have to decide which of the three to concentrate on the most and make certain that player never gets in a rhythm.
2. Get the ball to Gordon Hayward in all his comfort spots. Set good screens to get him clear looks. And hope his shot is falling.
3. Keep the pace somewhere between slow and glacial. Fewer possessions favor the team without the multiple offensive weapons. The Bulldogs will have to keep Duke from getting an offensive flow and make them play from behind.
What to expect: Duke really should win this game. The Blue Devils are, by far, the more versatile offensive team. They defend with great passion. And they are relentless on the glass. However, the biggest mistake made in evaluating any matchup is placing too much emphasis on the last glimpse and not trying to put the entire picture into context. Duke was great against West Virginia. Butler survived Michigan State. Well, the scores don't carry over. This starts from the beginning. So Butler has a chance at the upset.
Not a single team in this tournament has scored 60 points against Butler. That can't be a fluke. Syracuse and Kansas State are both serious offensive teams and they could not do it. So, if that is a reasonable premise to start, Butler, by definition, almost has to be in the game. And, if the Bulldogs stay in the game, the pressure then goes to Duke. I had not seen Duke in person since Villanova abused them in the 2009 Sweet 16. That Duke team gave in. This team does not. They are tougher, sharper and unwilling to concede anything.
If I could just evaluate this off what I know at this moment, I probably would pick Duke. The Blue Devils are the more likely winner. But, when this started, I gave out nine teams that could win it. One of them was Butler. One of them was not Duke. I was wrong about Duke. I evaluated them off what they were, not what they are. I was right about Butler. Defensively, they are near flawless with their slides and ball pressure. The Bulldogs will not make the same fundamental defensive mistakes WVU did when it over committed in the wrong places and lost its concentration when Duke started raining in long shots.
But, if Butler is going to win this game, it will have to make a reasonable percentage of shots, even if they can keep the game in the 50s. I think Hayward has the most upside of any player in this game. He is going to have to be great tonight. Even then, it won't be easy.
I have not talked to a single person that likes Butler. Therefore, my decision, given that and my earlier prediction, is rather easy. I like Butler in the upset.