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National Championship Preview: Connecticut vs. Butler

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In what, according to perception, may very well be the least watched National Championship game in recent NCAA basketball history, Connecticut and Butler square off for the right to be the last team shown during “One Shining Moment.”

Butler, coming off their best tournament showing in school history, was expected by most to have a down season in 2011. Especially true considering their best player, Gordon Hayward high-tailed it out of Indiana and took his talents to the NBA. The projections seemed dead on through early February when the Bulldogs highlighted a 3-game losing streaks by dropping a game to one of the worst teams in the country, Youngstown State. Since then however, they have rattled off 14 straight wins and find themselves in the Championship game yet again.

They will take on a Connecticut team that wasn’t even projected in preseason to make the tournament. However, much like Butler, the Huskies got hot at the right time and despite a 9-9 conference record, won their way through the Big East tournament and haven’t looked back. In fact they are undefeated in every tournament-style game they have played this season. They won the Maui Invitational, The Big East tournament, and now are on the precipice of winning the big dance. The most fascinating part about UConn is that they more or less go on the back of Kemba Walker. Sure Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Alex Oriakhi have been key contributors, but Walker is one of those dynamic college players that can literally win a game by himself.

Key Players:

Uconn Butler
Kemba Walker 6’1, 172, JR Shelvin Mack 6’3, 215, JR
Jeremy Lamb 6’5, 185, FR Matt Howard 6’8, 230, SR
Shabazz Napier 6’0, 170, FR Shawn Vanzant 6’0, 172, SR
Alex Oriahki 6’9, 240, SO Andrew Smith 6’11, 239, SO
Roscoe Smith 6’8, 205  FR Ronald Nored 6’0, 174, JR

How is it going to play out? Judging by how my brackets have looked this year, I’m the wrong person to ask. I had neither Butler nor Connecticut in the Championship game but I’ll take a shot at breaking down this matchup, and hey, if I’m wrong, at least there won’t be too many people watching.

Butler is very inconsistent on the inside glass. One way they try to lessen the advantage is through use of the three-point shot to create longer rebounds. The Bulldogs shoot threes like Chuck Norris shoots criminals, early and often. During their tournament 47% of their shots from the field have been threes (127/270). I don’t see their plan changing tonight as Connecticut has the clear advantage on the boards with Oriakhi. If the threes fall, Butler will be tough to beat, but even if they don’t, they will lessen their rebounding disadvantage.

Butler also must limit their mistakes and force the Huskies beat them from the outside. UConn is great at getting to the rim, but if they don’t get an easy look, they can struggle with their half-court execution. The Huskies generally look for the quick look and if it’s not there fall into the Cavs offense when LeBron was around; standing around waiting for Kemba to do something. If Butler leaves the lane open or makes too many mistakes that allow UConn to release into transition and capitalize on, they can cancel Christmas.  Butler has to play the type of defense they are known for and make Connecticut work for every single basket.

For UConn to be successful they need Kemba to be Kemba. If he catches fire to the tune of 35-5-5, that might be enough for the Huskies to be cutting down the nets. If not, they still have the superior athletes but will need at least two of Lamb, Napier, and Oriakhi to really step up and shoulder the load. Out of these three, Lamb will provide the most difficult matchup for Butler. However, in my mind Kemba will get his points, he was only held under 15 twice this season. On defense the Huskies need to defend Butler’s Shelvin Mack like teams defend Kemba. If left unchecked Mack can fill up a scoresheet. UConn will also do well to try and get Matt Howard into foul trouble. Howard has a propensity for reckless play at times and having him spending as much time on the bench as possible can only help the Huskies chances.

Butler, because of their defensive acuity and attention to detail are a very difficult team to blow out. I think they will certainly hang with UConn and the winner will be determined by which team can slow the game down and execute under pressure. Kemba Walker is a killer and will undoubtedly be the go-to guy for UConn. Meanwhile on the other side Matt Howard always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

This really is a toss up; The Huskies are quicker, more dynamic, and have the superior talent but no team in the nation has the experience, is as fundamentally sound or as difficult to stop on offense as Butler. I wouldn’t wager money on anything but the under. As for the outcome, I’ve always leaned towards talent finding a way to get it done and while my head says that its Kemba time and UConn is destined to finish off their run, I’m going with my heart and taking Butler.

Butler 65 – Connecticut 63

 

Discussion

2 Responses to “National Championship Preview: Connecticut vs. Butler”

  1. Replace “Chuck Norris” with “Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH”, and you’ve got a Simile that is a bit truer, considering Chuck didn’t pick up the guns religiously till DELTA FORCE.

    Posted by Bobby Digital | April 4, 2011, 9:11 pm

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