By: Brian Dernulc
So the end of the college basketball season is finally upon us. It’s been a helluva year and a pretty good tournament despite what is looking like the worst possible end to the season. The Championship game pits good vs. evil, David vs. Goliath, Cinderella vs. the midnight hour, or whichever cliché metaphor you want to use to describe Butler vs. Duke. Either way, it’s pretty clear that unless you’re a douchebag…I mean Duke fan…you’re rooting for Butler in this game…hard. Very hard. I can’t believe this is the last game of the year, but it’s hard to argue that any team has played better than these two over the last month. So how’s the game going to turn out? Let’s find out…
#1 Duke v. #5 Butler
Duke absolutely dismantled West Virginia in the semifinal game. That game never even felt close and it never seemed like West Virginia really had a chance to win after about 7 minutes into the game. I thought the game plan to stop Duke was simple and I thought West Virginia was the team to execute it. I was wrong about the second part for sure. Not positive I was wrong about the first part, but after the way Duke has cruised through the tournament, we’ll say I was. Duke’s offensive execution was flawless and West Virginia’s defense was poor, but I think it’s finally time to give Duke their due credit. I know other people have been doing that for some time and I am late to the party, but better late than never, as they say. They have a very solid mix of players for the style that Duke likes to play. They haven’t had a solid offensive big man in several years, but they finally have the right big men for their system. The bigs are great at setting screens (although often illegal ones, if they don’t call it keep doing it), and real solid rebounders. More importantly, I think, is that they understand their strengths and are entirely ok with being non-factors in the scoring department. They know their job is to screen for the dynamic 3 of Singler, Scheyer, and Smith and are completely accepting of that fact. As for the aforementioned 3, they can play. They knock down big shot after big shot and if you leave them open, it’s curtains. They have become the types of players that when they shoot, you just feel like the ball is going in and if it doesn’t you feel like you dodged a bullet. That isn’t a good feeling. I hate it. A lot of advanced baseketball statistics have rated Duke extremely high all season long in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency. I guess the numbers don’t lie.
Despite the fact that they took out my beloved Syracuse, I couldn’t be happier for Butler and what they have done in this tournament. As someone born in the state of Indiana and the son of parents who grew up and spent a good portion of their adult lives there, I have always had a deep affinity for the state. More importantly, though, through stories from my parents and extended family about life there, I understand what basketball means to the people of the state. Everyone knows the movie Hoosiers, but I don’t think a lot of people truly appreciate how real it is. They once had over 40,000 people watch the high school state championship game when native son (and future IU star) Damon Bailey played his final high school game. 40,000 people for a high school game!! In what has become a football crazy nation, basketball is still king in Indiana and it always will be. That’s part of what makes the Butler thing so cool for me to watch. It really really means a lot to their fans and the connection that they have to the players is real. They have 10 players from the state of Indiana on their roster so they also understand what basketball means to the fans and that helps. Not only were these players not recruited nationally, but they weren’t even heavily recruited by the three major conference teams in the state of Indiana (IU, Purdue, Notre Dame). That speaks to how loaded the talent pool is in the state.
As for Butler itself, I fear they may finally meet a team that they just won’t be able to match up with. They are undoubtedly a stellar defensive team, but I’m just not sure how they are going to be able to stop Duke from scoring on second and third chances all game long. An already undersized Butler team might be missing their only big man, Matt Howard, who suffered a mild concussion against Michigan St.Duke is going to dominate the boards. There is no doubt about it. Butler needs to stay persistent on defense and force Duke’s big 3 to take contested shot after contested shot and hope for the best. Then they have to hope that they can score enough on the other end of the floor. Those are both tough tasks. Gordon Hayward is smooth and him and Shelvin Mack are going to have to have monster offensive games to have a chance. I just don’t think they’ll have enough. I think they can slow down Duke’s big 3 for a little while, but the second and third chances will eventually wear them down.
Unfortunately, an otherwise solid college basketball season is going to come to a miserable end…with Duke cutting down the nets. Enjoy the game the best you can.
The Pick: Duke