BUTLER vs. DUKE
Matchup: There have been many goliaths in Butler's path. And there was much doubt whether the Bulldogs would be able to pull the upsets without burning up the net from 3-point range. They didn't -- Butler shot 6-of-24 from three-point range vs. Syracuse, 5-of-21 vs. Michigan State. Yet, pull the upsets they did -- because it's been all about defense for Butler. No team has broken 60 points against Butler in the Tournament. Three times this season have opponents scored at least 70 points agianst Butler, and the Bulldogs lost all three. Expect the Bulldogs to be aggressive and set the tone with defense.
Duke has won with defense as well. The Blue Devils keep finding answers, perhaps most impressive because they've endured terrible shooting games from some of their top players in the NCAA Tournament and yet they march on. Duke hangs much of its credentials on a defense that has been unwavering for the most part. And the confidence is soaring for a team that has lost only once since January. Duke should be able to throw enough post players at Butler to be effective in the middle. But don't discount Butler's undersized front court. The Bulldogs beat Kansas State on the boards by 12 in the regional final and hung with Michigan State, the nation's leader in rebounding margin, getting outrebounded by just four.
Butler's key is forcing opponent's into bad shots. The Blue Devils would be wise to avoid another subpar shooting game.
Recap: Butler isn't here by accident. The Bulldogs have wins over Ohio State and Xavier and a 25-game winning streak entering the Tournament final. The Bulldogs were surprised to be a No. 5 seed in the West Region considering the team was ranked in the top 12 in the nation on Selection Sunday. The math didn't add up, but the Bulldogs didn't bicker -- they showed their work by mowing down the best teams in the region, beating No. 1 Syracuse and second-seeded Kansas State in back-to-back games before knocking off Michigan State to advance to its first NCAA Championhip game.
While Butler lives off of strong defense, the Bulldogs have a few players capable of carrying the team in the scoring department, starting with forward Gordon Heyward. He can handle the ball or score in the post, and and he hit three three-pointers against Michigan State.
Keys to Victory: This much we know -- the Bulldogs can win with defense. Against Syracuse, as it was against Murray State in the second round, the difference was turnovers, forcing 34 total (18 vs. Syracuse). Against Michigan State in the national semifinal, Butler forced another 16. Butler has held six straight opponents under 60 points, scrambling back on defense after missed shots to keep the tempo to a controlled boil.
But Butler has many different ways to win. Balanced scoring is another Butler strength. Five players have led the team in scoring in the last 11 games, including defensive specialist Ronald Nored's 15 against Murray State. "That's a big thing about our team," Nored told the Indianapolis Star. "No matter who is struggling, what anybody is going through, we're all there for each other."
The Bulldogs can also lean on forward Gordon Hayward, the Horizon League Player of the Year. Hayward averages 15.6 points and 8.3 rebounds for Butler, but in the last three games, he's averaged 19.3 points with seven three-pointers. Butler's guard trio of Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored and Shawn Vanzant has dominated Tournament opponents. It'll take another dominating effort against Duke guards Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith.
Butler also has a significant home-court advantage in Indianapolis, which is a 15-minute ride from campus. The Bulldogs will benefit from getting the crowd into the game early.
More important, forward Matt Howard, who suffered a minor concussion in the nationa semifinal, not only has to play but must play at 100 pecent. Howard is a game-time decision. If he can't go or is limited by the injury, Duke's advantage in the frontcourt could become too big a hurdle for Butler to overcome.
How They Got Here:
Butler 77, UTEP 59
Butler 54, Murray State 52
Butler 63, Syracuse 59
Butler 63, Kansas State 56
Butler 52, Michigan State 50
Quote to Note: "I don't care about being called a Cinderella or a mid-major. We don't have resources that other teams have, and that's just a fact. But resources don't win games. We have a lot of guys with big hearts."
-- Butler coach Brad Stevens
DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Recap: So much has been made about the energy Duke expends in a given game and many have theorized that eventually, that much output over 40 games has to catch up to the Blue Devils. The rebuttal from the Duke players -- catch us if you can. They're one game away from winning a national championship and they seem to be going strong.
"I feel at the end of the game, I am at my best," said Duke forward Lance Thomas. "I want it bad. ... They have the athletes, but the way we train, I [am not] tired."
Duke keeps putting the accelerator down at the end of the game. The seven-point margin of victory against Baylor was Duke's only NCAA Tournament game decided by single digits. Against West Virginia in the national semifinal, the Blue Devils outscored the Mountaineers 20-9 in the last 11 minutes of the game.
Adrenaline ought to be able to carry the Blue Devils through one more week. Guard Jon Scheyer has played 78 of 80 minutes in the last two games.
Compared to many Duke teams, the Blue Devils have flown beneath the radar this season. There's not denying they're the favorite on Monday night, though.
Keys to Victory: There have been questions throughout the tournament whether Duke could win without its big three putting up sizeable totals on the stat sheet. Kyle Singler was held to five points and didn't have a field goal against Baylor, and Jon Scheyer went 1-of-11 against California. Both, however, found their shooting touch against West Virginia. Singler scored 21 points, shooting 8-of-16 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from long range, while Scheyer pumped in 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 5-of-9 from three-point range.
Scheyer and Nolan Smith must be at the top of their game against Butler's dangerous backcourt. The Bulldogs play smothering defense, cause turnovers and force bad shots. Smith has been extremely steady and exploded for a career-best 29 points against Baylor. He followed that with 19 points (4-of-9 on three-pointers) against West Virginia.
Duke's best advantage will come in the frontcourt. Singler, 7-foot-1 Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas have given Duke a plus-10.4 rebounding margin in the Tournament. The Blue Devils must pound the offensive glass as second-chance points could turn the game.
How They Got Here:
Duke 73, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 44
Duke 68, California 53
Duke 70, Purdue 57
Duke 78, Baylor 71
Duke 78, West Virginia 57
Quote to Note: "I've never had a group exactly like this one. Again, we're not a great team, but we are really a good team. But we have great character. To be around that character on a day-to-day basis is so fulfilling for me. That's why I'm very, very happy for them."
-- coach Mike Krzyzewski