It’s time for the 2010 NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship game, between the Duke Blue Devils of the ACC and the Butler Bulldogs from the Horizon League. Duke, the only #1 seed to reach the Final Four, hammered West Virginia 78-57 on Saturday night, while the fifth-seeded Bulldogs outlasted Michigan State 52-50. Before we go to a Preview with my Pick for the game as well as ‘Keys to Victory,’ let’s review my record in this tourney heading into Monday night . . .
26-6 in First Round
6-2 in Sweet 16
1-3 in Elite 8
0-2 in Final Four
Total: 33-13 (69%)
#5 Butler (33-4) vs. #1 Duke (34-5) – 9:21 PM: It’s the classic David vs. Goliath in the National Final on Monday night. Duke, going for their first National Championship since 2001 and fourth ever, has been in 93 NCAA Tournament games, 15 Final Four games and appeared in the title game 10 times. As for Butler, they’ve played in only 13 tourney games, making both their first trip to the Final Four and Championship, and never won the NCAA title. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke’s Head Coach, looks to join elite company with John Wooden of UCLA and Adolph Rupp from Kentucky as the only men to ever win four National Championships. Butler Coach Brad Stevens, only 33 years of age, came into this tournament as a relatively unknown sideline general. The hometown favorites from Indianapolis have won 25 straight, the longest winning streak in the NCAA by any team this year. A couple other storylines to watch . . .
Duke is led by the ‘S-Trio’ of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. While Scheyer is the only senior of that threesome, it could be the final collegiate game for each as Smith and Singler could elect to forgo their senior season and entre the NBA Draft.
For Butler, which has rallied in the second half to beat each of their opponents in the NCAA Tournament – - UTEP, Murray State, Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State – - the Bulldogs do not enter this game completely healthy. Guard Shelvin Mack, who scored 14 points in the National Semifinals, went out with cramps, and Matt Howard is coming off a concussion. Both are expected to play for the darling underdog.
Duke’s Keys to Victory:
#1 – Force Butler to Shoot 3’s: This Butler team is not that great shooting from beyond the arc. In fact, Butler shot about only 30% from the field and beat Michigan State. Why? Well, because nothing really phases them and they don’t hurt themselves with a lot of mistakes. Conversely, they are able to capitalize off your mistakes, as indicated when they beat the Spartans 20-2 in points off turnovers. Mack is the guy on the perimeter they have to key in on because other than him they really don’t have a three-point threat that scares you. If Duke is able to make Butler settle for three-point looks instead of punching it in the paint and get one of the Blue Devils’ bigs in foul trouble, that favors Coach K’s bunch.
#2 – Get to the Free-Throw Line: When Duke gets to the free-throw line a lot, like they did in the Elite Eight against Baylor, it not only stops the clock and keeps teams from running out for points in transition, but most importantly it gives them a chance for easy points and possibly get one of Butler’s main contributors like a Howard in foul trouble. Plus, it puts less pressure on them having to shoot so hot from deep, which they’ve done the last two games by going 24-of-48 from long distance. That’s 50%, but they also have had a rough time shooting from long range for stretches in the this tourney when Cal limited them to 2-for-9 from three-point land in the first half and when they went 3-for-9 from 3-range vs. Purdue in the Sweet 16.
#3 – Cause the Bulldogs to Turn it Over: Duke is at its best when they are able to apply ball pressure and make their opponent turn the basketball over. More times than not, Butler protects the basketball very well, however, when Kansas St. turned up the heat defensively they were able to cause 20 turnovers on the Bulldogs. The more turnovers Butler has – - and they are a team that likes to play in the 50’s – - the fewer possessions they have, and the more likely they are prone to going through a spell where they struggle to score. Remember, Murray State held them without a field goal the final 6:30 of the first half in their second round matchup, so if Duke can really dig in defensively, they can put Butler in their first real hole of the tournament where they are down by eight or more. Butler isn’t built to come back from a large deficit, thing is nobody has gotten them in a position or situation where they’ve got to go on a run and really get hot shooting from long range in order to win.
Butler’s Keys to Victory:
#1 – Shot Selection: Getting off to a fast start is imperative and a must, but if they are trailing early, the Bulldogs can’t panic and start pressing to the point where they rush shots and don’t value the clock. That will play into Duke’s hands. The real key guy with the ball in his hands with the clocking ticking down will be Gordon Hayward, who’s averaging 19.3 points per game over the last three. Mack also can’t be forgotten as he hit 7-of-9 from three-point land in the opening round victory over UTEP . . . they will need good dribble penetration and try to get him open off drives through the lane that make the defense collapse.
#2 – Defensive Rebounding: Duke’s Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas have been outstanding on the offensive boards over the last couple games as the Blue Devils grabbed 22 offensive rebounds against Baylor in the Elite Eight and then followed it up by holding West Virginia to only 19 boards in the last game out. Butler may lose the battle in the boards and still have a chance to win. They can’t give up a huge advantage in that category though, especially since Duke gets a lot of offensive boards and then kick out to Scheyer, Smith or Single off those second chance opportunities for open 3’s.
#3 – Get a Bench Spark: Butler really relies heavily on their starting unit of Hayward, Howard, Mack, Willie Veasley and defensive specialist Ronald Nored, they got a real lift off the bench from 6-foot-1 junior reserve guard Shawn Vanzant. He doesn’t have to score and have a 20-point game like he did a year ago versus Valparaiso, but if he can make a couple key plays like he did late in the Michigan State game, including an offensive rebound with less than two minutes to go that led to them going up by four, then his impact will be felt.
Pick: Duke 64-52 – While Butler hasn’t given up 60 points in a game yet in this NCAA Tournament and their team plays superb defense, constantly proving me wrong as they beat the likes of Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State (I even picked them to lose in the opening round to UTEP), Duke is mighty good offensively. The Blue Devils have scored no fewer than 68 points in any game in the NCAA Tournament, and even when they don’t shoot the ball exceedingly well, they crash the offensive glass for second chance points. And as West Virginia found out in the last round, when each guy in their S-Trio of Singler, Scheyer and Smith is on, you can’t go through any offensive drought or you’ll lose by double-figures.