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Matt Norlander

Ranking Monday's probable starters one through 10

The Dagger

1. G

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ordon Hayward (Butler). Between the two teams, he's the only player projected to go in the first round, let alone the lottery. Hayward has only seen his stock upped by helping Butler get this far in the tournament. He's got tremendous hands, can score from two or 22 feet out and plays the passing lanes well. Butler needs him more than Duke needs any single player.

2. Kyle Singler (Duke). Singler's above his two other S teammates because, at his ceiling performance, he's better than anyone else on Duke. Singler can shoot the mid-range shot extremely well, and as you saw, can bounce back from a bad effort. He didn't make on field goal in the game against Baylor, then had 21 on 8-for-16 shooting against WVU. Plus, he "plays sweaty" as I like to call it. Nobody likes to go up against that.

3. Nolan Smith (Duke). The Swiss Army knife of Duke. He's a better defender than Jon Scheyer, so I put him here. Smith should see how effective he can be at getting to the hoop against Butler. He's absolutely capable of penetrating and scoring in a number of different ways. Plus, he seems good for two or three of those backbreaking 3-pointers every game.

4. Jon Scheyer (Duke). Scheyer was in the running for the ACC Player of the Year award, if you'll recall. He's gotten nearly as good at coming off screen and quick-releasing as J.J. Redick was. Scheyer's not a great player with a man in his face, but thanks to Smith and Singler, he gets his chances. He could score 20 in the first half and it wouldn't surprise me. Of Duke's top three players, he's the most reliable for points on a night-in, night-out basis.

5. Shelvin Mack (Butler). We finally get back to a Bulldog. Mack. What a dynamo. Sort of reminds me of Jameer Nelson in terms of a pound-for-pound tough sort of player. He is a stubborn, relentless man when it comes to attacking defenses. He's also a vital part of Butler's stingy offense. Here's to hoping he's not hampered by cramps.

6. Ronald Nored (Butler). Nored doesn't bring much on offense, but he's the best defender on the floor, easily. The way he shut down Jacob Pullen nearly brought me to tears. It was that beautiful. Who will Nored be assigned to Monday night? I'd put him on Scheyer, but he could be assigned to Smith as well — he didn't stay put on one man against Michigan State.

7. Matt Howard (Butler). And this was the Player of the Year in 2009 in the Horizon. Howard has a soft skull and may not play because of it. If that concussion doesn't keep him out, though, he'll be vital to stopping Duke from getting so many offensive rebounds. Howard's turned into a bit of a raccoon when it comes to scoring points as of late: He picks up the garbage. Butler wouldn't mind going to a four- or five-guard set at times, but Howard's presence at least gives the Bulldogs a line of defense against the Duke bigs.

8. Brian Zoubek (Duke). Prior to January, he would've been the last person on this list. But Zoubek, who has always set a nasty screen for the likes of Smith and Scheyer, has started to turn himself into a reliable option on the ensuing rolls to those screens. Frankly, I was aghast at this development. He's a power rebounder who's unafraid, though he tends to get into foul trouble nearly as much as Howard.

9. Willie Veasley (Butler). Veasley, a senior, is good for 10 points per game and grabs 4.3 rebounds as well. Impressive, given that he's not even as tall as John Wall. He's also Nored's right-hand defensive man. A slight knock: he knows how to give it back, too, coughing up two turnovers, on average, per game. If Veasley finds himself matched up with Scheyer, he better try to take advantage. And he's the reason why Butler is so intriguing. Despite being low on this list, I think he's capable and could find the ball in his hands with five seconds to go and the game tied. He could also get the ball back to Butler if he's guarding a man in the same situation.

10. Lance Thomas (Duke). Blue Devils fans don't want Lance Thomas shooting the ball anywhere outside three feet, that's for sure. Thomas is good for his length and sudden ability and desire to join Zoubek around the tin. His eight offensive-rebound game against Baylor was startling, and if he got the same against Butler, I'd certainly assume Duke would win the game.

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