Duke (34-5) vs Butler (33-4)
Indianapolis, Ind. - Lucas Oil Stadium
TV: CBS / Tip: 9:12 PM EST
Program Vitals Conference: Horizon Nickname: Bulldogs Colors: Blue, White Head Coach: Brad Stevens (3rd season) Career Record at Butler: 89-14
54 Matt Howard (6-8, 230, Jr.) – 11.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg
20 Gordon Hayward (6-9, 210, So.) – 15.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg
21 Willies Veasley (6-3, 205, Sr.) – 10.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg
01 Shelvin Mack (6-3, 215, So.) – 14.2 ppg, 3.1 apg
20 Ronald Nored (6-0, 175, So.) - 6.0 ppg, 3.6 apg
"I think we embrace [the role of underdog]. If that's what the story is going to be, we'll accept that. We're up for the challenge. ... Once the ball goes up in the air, all that's going to disappear, and it's just 5-on-5. We view them as another opponent, someone we're going to play and try to beat." - Gordon Hayward
"Everybody wants to be like them. I don't think there's any question. Speaking for Butler, we have a tremendous program, but we're not near what Duke has accomplished over the last 30-plus years. They've set a standard." - Brad Stevens on Duke
How They Got Here: Butler enters Monday night's game on a 25-game win streak. After rolling through the regular season, the Bulldogs have continued their winning ways in the tournament. Butler's signature wins over the last three weeks include decisions over Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State. During the regular season the Bulldogs earned wins over Ohio State, UCLA, and Xavier.
Series History:The teams have played once before with Duke winning 80-60 on Jan 30, 2003. Head coach Brad Stevens was an assistant coach at Butler during that game.
Last Time Out: The Bulldogs beat Michigan State 52-50 on Saturday night in the first National Semifinal despite shooting just 30.6 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from the perimeter. To offset that poor shooting, Butler forced 16 Michigan State turnovers and slowed the pace of the game to a virtual crawl that included a six minute scoreless span for the Bulldogs in the second half.
Butler's Matt Howard received a mild concussion against Michigan State and is listed as a game time decision.
Injuries Could Serious Impact Outcome It's crucial for the Bulldogs that Howard plays. He is the team's best post option and second best rebounder. He averages 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds and was the 2008-09 Horizon League player of the Year.
Despite his contributions, the Bulldogs have been out-rebounded by 3.4 per contest in the tournament. That's a key point because Duke, on the other hand, has owned the glass against a number of tough opponents to the tune of +10 per contest over the first five games.
Given the various media reports and the comments of his teammates, it's a good bet that the 6-foot-8 Howard will take the court tonight.
Big Three vs. Big Two: Much has been made of the Blue Devils' big three of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler. Against West Virginia the trio put together - perhaps - their best performance of the year, combining to shoot 12 of 23 from 3-point range while scoring all but 15 of Duke's 78 points in the blowout victory over West Virginia.
On the other side of the ball, the offense starts with Gordon Hayward. The talented combo forward scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Michigan State while Shelvin Mack added 14 despite cramping up. The two have combined to average 32.6 points per game for a team that is scoring just 61.8 points per game in the tournament and just 59.3 over the last three games.
Opposite Ends Of A Spectrum: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is attempting to become the third oldest head coach to win a National Title. A win on Monday night would be his fourth - tying Adolph Rupp for second most in a career. Meanwhile, Butler's Brad Stevens is looking to become the second youngest coach to win a championship.
Some points to illustrate the difference in coaching experience between the two include Stevens winning his first game as a head coach in the same month Krzyzewski won his 776th. Stevens was nine years old when Krzyzewski was coaching in his first Final Four. The first time Coach K guided a team to the NCAA Tournament? Stevens was in second grade. Go back further to Coach K getting his first job as a head coach (at Army). Stevens wasn't even born.
The contrast in coaching mirrors the contrast in program history. The Bulldogs aren't strangers to the NCAA Tournament in recent years. However, the program will be playing in it's first championship game, and just the 10th overall tournament game in its history. Duke? This is the 10th time the Blue Devils have played for a national title.
According to Department of Education figures, Butler spent $75,045 on recruiting last year, while Duke spent $769,474. Overall, Butler spent $347,168 on its basketball program, while Duke spent more than $5 million -- or $368,354 per player.
This Is Not Hoosiers: Sure, the storyline is similar. A virtual unknown school makes a great run to face the big bully in a championship game. And while that makes for an enthralling build-up, the truth is that Butler's hardly a Cinderella story. This is a team that was ranked within two spots of the Blue Devils in the preseason polls. It's a team that handled Ohio State in the regular season. That played Georgetown tougher than Duke. They've not only beaten Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State in the last three games - the Bulldogs have dictated the pace of those games and forced three top 10 opponents to play their game. In short, the Butler Bulldogs are a legit basketball team. Not an obscure group that has gotten hot at the right time.
Butler was favored in the semifinal matchup with the Spartans thanks in large part to a defense that has yet to allow an opponent to score more than 60 points during the tournament. It's something the Blue Devils are acutely aware of according to their head coach.
"I think they're one of the best teams in the country. I think Cinderella would be if somebody had eight, nine losses and pulled some upsets," Krzyzewski said. "You know, two of those kids played our on national team and won the Gold Medal in the under-19s. One was a starting guard, one was one of the outstanding players."
Mack was the point guard, while Hayward was also an effective rotational player for Team USA.
"They're one of the best teams in the country, or else they wouldn't be playing in the national championship," Krzyzewski added. "They've earned it. They probably had the toughest road."
Fearless Prediction(s) Certainly the media is painting this game as a mismatch. That's a mistake. Butler has been one of the best teams in the nation throughout the college season, and any Duke fan who has already started to celebrate would do well to remember the 1999 season. That year perhaps the most dominant team in the program's storied history rolled into the National Title game with a 36-1 record, a number of NBA ready draft picks, and the backing of virtually every talking head who predicted a then third title for the Blue Devils. That season ended in disappointment as Connecticut shocked Duke to win a title. Sure the Huskies had a number of NBA draft picks on their roster and didn't lose a game all season when the entire lineup was available, but the point remains that the heavy favorite doesn't always finish the job.
Perhaps one key difference between the 1999 and 2010 teams is the chemistry. In 1999 there were two distinct groups wearing Blue and White. This year the team is - by all accounts - as close as any Blue Devil team in history. The roster is devoid of any surefire lottery picks and, to be fair, the best pro-prospect is a reserve in a deep frontcourt. Certainly this roster is talented, but unlike the 1999 team this group appears to understand and accept their respective roles. Because of that this team is better able to deal with adversity and reacts a bit better when the opposition starts to establish itself. A lot of that goes to the number of upperclassmen and the experienced they've gained over the years.
Duke will need to defend the perimeter and continue to hit the glass on Monday night. Butler simply cannot match Duke's size, and if either Howard or Mack is limited, it's going to be tough for the Bulldogs to win. The Blue Devils are going to need to be patient on the offensive end and stay alert on defense. The Bulldogs are going to attempt to slow down the game make the Blue Devils grind. In years past that would have frustrated Duke. This year, however, the Devils are built for just such a game. Look for Jon Scheyer to have a big game as he puts on the uniform for the last time. The remaining members of the big three - Smith and Singler - were terrific against West Virginia and if they can come close to such a performance tonight, they will win their first National Championship while delivering Coach K his fourth.