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Jeff Eisenberg

Title game preview: Can Butler silence Duke's big three?

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The Dagger previews the national title game between Duke and Butler:

No. 5 Butler (33-4) vs. No. 1 Duke (34-5)

Monday, 9:21 p.m. EDT, Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)

How they got here:

Butler: d. No. 12 UTEP, 77-59; d. No. 13 Murray State, 54-52; d. No. 1 Syracuse, 63-59; d. No. 2 Kansas State, 63-56; d. No. 5 Michigan State, 52-50

Duke: d. No. 16 Arkansas Pine-Bluff, 73-44; d. No. 9 California, 68-53; d. No. 4 Purdue, 70-57; d. No. 3 Baylor, 78-71, d. No. 2 West Virginia, 78-57

Last title game appearances:

Butler: N/A

Duke: 2001 (Defeated Arizona, 82-72)

Three keys to the game:

1. Butler's perimeter defense: Duke's big three combined for 63 of the Blue Devils' 78 points on Saturday night, outscoring West Virginia by themselves. Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler figure to get a stiffer test from Butler, which is the first team ever to hold five NCAA tournament opponents under 60 points. The Bulldogs actually match up better than most teams with Duke defensively: Gordon Hayward is Singler's equal in terms of length and lateral quickness and defensive ace Ronald Nored, Shelvin Mack and Shawn Vansant have corralled elite guard duos before (that's you, Jacob Pullen and Dennis Clemente).

2. Rebounding: Duke appears to have the biggest advantage on the offensive glass, where it has punished opponents throughout this tournament. Three crucial offensive rebounds led to late Duke buckets in the regional final against Baylor last week and the Blue Devils at one point had a 15-0 advantage in second-chance points on Saturday against a West Virginia team that typically thrives on the glass. Undersized Butler kept Michigan State off the offensive boards after the first six minutes on Saturday, but the Bulldogs have nobody taller than the foul-prone 6-foot-8 Matt Howard down low.

3. Butler's health: We saw what happened to the Bulldogs' offense against Michigan State with a dehydrated Mack out with cramps and Howard battling foul trouble and then grogginess. Butler became stagnant and overly reliant on Hayward, winning with defense despite shooting 24 percent from the field in the second half and scoring only one field goal in the final 12:18. Duke is too potent of an offense for Butler to expect to win that way again, so the Bulldogs need Mack and Howard at full strength. Both will be evaluated Sunday and we should know more soon.

Prediction:

Butler's defense will harass Duke's big three into tough, contested looks, but the question is whether the Bulldogs can keep the Blue Devils off the offensive glass and avoid the second-chance looks that have killed West Virginia and Baylor. If the answer is yes, Butler has a great chance to win another low-scoring game. If the answer is no, the Bulldogs will have to score more efficiently, something that will probably be difficult. Give me Duke, 68-61.

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