BUTLER VS. DUKE
TIME: 9:21 p.m.
RECORDS: Butler 33-4, Duke 34-5
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Butler won the West Regional as the No. 5 seed; the Bulldogs beat No. 12 UTEP 77-59, No. 13 Murray State 54-52, No. 1 Syracuse 63-59, No. 2 Kansas State 63-56 and fellow No. 5 seed Michigan State 52-50 in a national semifinal. Duke won the South Regional as a No. 1 seed; the Blue Devils beat No. 16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 73-44, No. 8 California 68-53, No. 4 Purdue 70-57, No. 3 Baylor 78-71 and West Virginia, a No. 2 seed, 78-57 in a national semifinal.
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HISTORY: This is Butler’s first appearance. Duke has won three national titles, in 1991 (over Kansas), 1992 (Michigan) and 2001 (Arizona). The Blue Devils were runners-up in 1964 (losing to UCLA), ’78 (Kentucky), ’86 (Louisville), ’90 (UNLV), ’94 (Arkansas) and ’99 (Connecticut). Coach Mike Krzyzewski is trying to become just the third coach with at least four titles; UCLA’s John Wooden has 10 and Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp won four.
THE LINE: Duke by 7.
THE GAME: While the Bulldogs certainly are no "Hoosiers"-type underdog, a Butler national title would be one of the most unbelievable happenings in tournament history. Butler has won 25 in a row, thanks to great defense. The Bulldogs swarm when the opponent gets the ball into the paint, and they have some of the quickest hands in the nation. Their goal, as with most teams, is to force opponents into bad shots. More often than not, the Bulldogs are able to do it. PG Ronald Nored is a tremendous on-ball defender; will he be on Jon Scheyer or Nolan Smith? Senior F Willie Veasley is just 6 feet 3, but his quickness can bother bigger opponents.
While Butler is undersized, the Bulldogs usually don’t give up many offensive rebounds. The Bulldogs outrebounded Kansas State by 12 in the regional final and were outrebounded by just four by Michigan State, which came in leading the nation in rebounding margin. Butler’s Matt Howard, the Bulldogs’ most physical big man, hit his head on the floor in Saturday’s semifinal; his availability likely will be a game-time decision. His absence would be a huge hurdle to overcome. If Howard can’t play, that would put pressure on senior Avery Jukes and freshman Andrew Smith to not only play 15-plus minutes each but also to produce.
While the Bulldogs are a grind-it-out team offensively, they can score in transition because they have a lot of good ballhandlers. Duke’s rebounding prowess is going to be important. The Blue Devils have owned the boards of late, and they are especially dangerous when they grab offensive rebounds because their big guys are adept at finding open perimeter shooters. Senior 7-footer Brian Zoubek isn’t much of an offensive threat, but he is a force on the offensive boards. His sheer size also will be important when he’s in the low post on defense. Duke’s offense has been solid for most of the season, thanks to the “Big Three” of Scheyer, Smith and Kyle Singler. Each has 3-point range and each has a nice mid-range game. Singler also can score in the low post, and Smith has the strength and quickness to get to the rim. When one of the “Big Three” is off, the other two generally have been able to overcome the off-day. Butler’s focus will be on shutting down two of the three.
Duke has been especially good with its perimeter defense this season, but the Blue Devils need to be wary of Butler’s ability to drive. Nored, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack are adept at getting into the lane. If they can do that consistently against the Blue Devils, Butler is going to have success on offense. While Butler is not as explosive as Duke, the Bulldogs do have some solid offensive players - especially Hayward and Mack. It would help the Bulldogs’ cause if reserve G Zach Hahn can hit a 3-pointer or two.
THE NUMBER THAT MATTERS: Butler has allowed 70 points just three times this season - and lost all three. Tempo is going to be vital for the Bulldogs, who want this game in the 50s or low 60s. If Duke scores 65 or more, it will win. Duke averages 77.4 points and has been held to less than 60 points just once this season (a 57-46 victory over Virginia). Butler has held seven opponents in a row, 12 of its past 13 and 16 of its past 19 to less than 60 points.