Breaking down the title game

BUTLER VS. CONNECTICUT
WHERE: Reliant Stadium, Houston
WHEN: 9:15 p.m. Monday
TV: CBS
ANNOUNCERS: Jim Nantz play-by-play, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr analysts
THE SPREAD: UConn by 3.5
ENROLLMENTS: Butler 4,200, UConn 28,383
TITLE GAME APPEARANCES: This is Butler’s second and Connecticut’s third. UConn is 2-0, Butler 0-1.
RECORDS: Butler 28-9, UConn 31-9
FAST FACTS: This is the highest combined number of losses (18) in title-game history. Only three NCAA champs have had more than nine losses (11 for Kansas in 1988 and 10 each for NC State in 1983 and Villanova in 1985). Arizona had nine in 1997. UConn is trying to become the fifth No. 3 seed to win the title and the first since Florida in 2006. Butler is trying to become the second No. 8 to win it; Villanova in ’85 is the lone No. 8 to have won the crown. UConn’s Jim Calhoun, 68, would be the oldest coach to win a title. Butler’s Brad Stevens, 34, would be the second-youngest, behind only Indiana’s Branch McCracken, who was 31 when the Hoosiers won it all in 1940.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Butler won the Southeast Regional as the No. 8 seed. The Bulldogs d. No. 9 ODU 60-58, d. No. 1 Pittsburgh 71-70, d. No. 4 Wisconsin 61-54 and d. No. 1 Florida 74-71 (OT) in the region, and d. No. 11 VCU 70-62 in a national semifinal. UConn won the West Regional as the No. 3 seed. The Huskies d. No. 14 Bucknell 81-52, d. No. 6 Cincinnati 69-58, d. No. 2 San Diego State 74-67 and d. No. 5 Arizona 65-63 in the region, and d. No. 4 Kentucky 56-55 in a national semifinal.
KEY STAT: UConn averages 13.8 offensive rebounds but gives up 13.2 per game. Butler averages 11.1 offensive rebounds and allows just 9.0 per game.
THE BUZZ: G Kemba Walker carried UConn for most of the season, but freshman swingman Jeremy Lamb has emerged as a reliable second scorer over the second half of the season. Still, if Walker struggles, UConn is in trouble on offense. Butler has counted on G Shelvin Mack and F Matt Howard all season. Expect to see Butler put Ronald Nored on Walker; the Bulldogs likely will use three or even four guys on Walker, but expect Nored to get the bulk of the minutes. He is an excellent on-ball defender who has both strength and quickness. Lamb’s size is going to present some matchup problems for Butler. He is silky-smooth and can get into the lane seemingly when he wants, and he should be able to shoot over the guys Butler uses on him. Offensive rebounding is going to be big. UConn does a great job on the offensive boards, but the Huskies also give up an alarming number of offensive rebounds. That will hurt against Butler, which crashes the boards with abandon to make up for a lack of size. Freshman reserve F Khyle Marshall has been a monster on the offensive boards in the tourney, with 22 in five games. He had seven against a big Florida frontcourt, and that type of outing would be a huge boost against UConn. Butler is better from 3-point range (35.5 percent to 33.3), and you can expect the Bulldogs to run some plays early that are supposed to lead to 3-point attempts. UConn is better from the line (76.9 percent to 72.9 percent), and the Huskies’ three main perimeter guys – Walker, Lamb and freshman Shabazz Napier – each shoot at least 76.6 from the free-throw line, while Lamb and Walker are both better than 80 percent. UConn doesn’t get enough credit for its defense; it has held foes to less than 40 percent shooting from the field in nine of its past 20 games, and only four opponents have shot better than 45 percent in that span. Butler’s rebounding has been big in the tourney; the Bulldogs have outrebounded four of their five foes (all but Pitt), including a six-rebound advantage over an ODU team that led the nation in rebounds, a four-rebound advantage over a tall Florida team and a 16-rebound advantage over VCU. In the past two games, Butler has 32 offensive rebounds and has allowed just 14.
THE KEY INDIVIDUAL: Butler has to feel comfortable that Mack and Howard are going to get their points, much like UConn has to feel comfortable that Walker and Lamb are going to get theirs. So which team is going to get the biggest boost from a third option? Butler’s usually is C Andrew Smith, who averages 8.6 points, and UConn’s usually is C Alex Oriakhi, who averages 9.6. Smith has scored just seven points, on 2-of-7 shooting, but has 15 rebounds in the past two games, and he has scored 33 points in the tourney; Oriakhi has a combined 15 points and 16 boards in the past two games and also has scored 33 points in the tourney. Butler’s third offensive option in this one is more likely to be senior G Shawn Vanzant. He can hit the 3-pointer, and his defense also will be important for the Bulldogs.

Mike Huguenin is a Yahoo! Sports college sports editor. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Apr 3, 2011