The Championship Game: Position by Position
After over two weeks of incredible basketball, the NCAA Tournament is coming to a close. We've seen some of the biggest upsets in recent memory, many of which were pulled of by a five seed, Butler. On the other side of the bracket, Duke has been getting the job done. Both teams have earned their way to this championship game, so we will look at how these teams match up position by position.
Point Guard- (5) Butler: Shelvin Mack- Mack is an incredibly explosive guard who Duke has to account for. Mack is Butler's second best player but for them to stay in the game he has to play well. He averages a respectable 3.1 assists per game but has the tendencies of a shoot first point guard. If Duke doesn't account for him in transition Mack will pull up and hit 3's in transition and could explode for 25 just like in the first round game against UTEP.
(1)Duke: Jon Scheyer- Scheyer is a more natural two guard than one guard but has made the transition to the point fairly smoothly. As a Senior, Scheyer is very experienced and a very clutch player, always seeming to hit the big shot when Duke needs it. Scheyer is averaging a team best 18.2 points and 4.8 assists, while also pulling down a solid 3.6 boards. Without Scheyer, this Duke team would not be where they are today, he is the leader of this Blue Devil squad.
Shooting Guard- (5) Butler: Ronald Nored- Nored is the only Butler starter that didn't start every single game this season. While leading the Bulldogs in assists per game at 3.7 Nored started 32 out of 37 games playing an average of 29.9 minutes per game. Nored is a role player averaging six points who often splits time with Zach Hahn off the bench. Butler essentially just needs Nored to take care of the ball and hit open shots.
(1) Duke: Nolan Smith- When this Duke team needed him the most, in the Elite Eight against Baylor, Smith stepped up in a HUGE way. He poured in a career high 29 points on 9 of 17 shooting from the field and broke the Baylor defense. Smith shoots nearly 40 percent from three and does a great job of spotting up to get kicks off of the offensive rebound. If Butler doesn't watch out, Smith will light them up not only from three but off the dribble drive, and that will make Duke tough to beat.
Small Forward- (5) Butler: Gordon Hayward- Hayward IS hands down the Butler Bulldogs best player. At 6'9" Howard is actually a primary ball handler for the Bulldogs and does so with incredible composure. Hayward is never out of control, and create an open shot against absolutely any defender. While his three point shooting is down this year, Hayward at 29.5 percent from deep is still a threat to catch and shoot or hit a three off the dribble. Hayward nearly never forces his offense and it shows, he has taken no more than 14 shots in any game. Hayward will get his averages of 15.5 points and 8.2 boards, its going to be up to the rest of the Bulldogs.
(1) Duke: Kyle Singler- Singler is physically very similar to Gordon Hayward. At 6'8" Singler too can beat you in a variety of ways, he will post smaller defenders up, take the slower ones off the dribble, or simply create enough space to hit a jumper. Singler is one of three Dukies averaging more than 17 points per game, coming in at 17.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. The question that has to be asked of Singler, is which version of him will we see. Will we see the one that showed up against Baylor (0-10 from the field, 5 points) or the one that showed up against West Virgina (8-16 with 21 points). Which Singler shows up could determine the outcome of this game.
Power Forward- (5) Butler: Willie Veasley- Veasley is one of only two seniors on this very talented Butler team. Veasley is one of four Butler players averaging 10+ points per game, putting up 10.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Veasley is going to be in charge of getting a body on Lance Thomas who is an incredible offensive rebounder. Veasley will also be called upon to put up a little bit of offense to take some pressure off of Hayward, Howard, and Mack.
(1) Duke: Lance Thomas- Thomas is one of four seniors on this Duke team, and is one of the best glue guys in the country. Lance Thomas takes care of so many intangibles on this Duke team, and because he does this, Duke wins games. Thomas averages a rather pedestrian 4.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, but he is a key player for Duke. So far in the NCAA tournament he has 28 rebounds, and 19 of those have been offensive. Against Baylor in the Elite Eight Thomas had eight offensive rebounds that led to many of Duke's second chance points, the key reason for their victory over Baylor.
Center- (5) Butler: Matt Howard- Matt Howard, at 6'8" is going to be severely undersized against the Duke front court. Howard was the 2008-2009 Horizon Conference player of the year, and this year he averaged 11.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest. Look for the Blue Devils in large part to shut down Howard with 7 foot Zoubek, and the Plumlee twins off the bench. It would in large part be considered a victory if Howard rebounded well, keeping Duke off the offensive glass.
(1) Duke: Brian Zoubek- The 7'1" Senior has absolutely come alive in the latter half of this season. Zoubek is averaging 18.1 minutes per game which is 7 minutes more than any other year in his career. Zoubek has greatly improved his game putting up a respectable 5.5 points and a solid 7.6 rebounds. In the previous four games of this NCAA Tournament Zoubs has posted 13,14,9, and 10 rebounds. Zoubek is playing exactly how Duke needs him to play, and against Butler Coach K is going to ask Zoubek to contain Howard, and pound the glass.
Bench- (5) Butler: Butler has only three players that come off the bench that have played in every game this season. Zach Hahn, Shawn Vanzant, and Avery Jukes all three come off the bench as three point threats. In the game against Michigan State, Butler's bench only scraped together four points, that number will have to increase if they plan on beating Duke. Don't look for Butler to rely on their bench to much as the brunt of their scoring comes from Hayward, Howard, Mack, and Veasley.
(1) Duke: Duke's bench much like Butlers is only three men deep. Coach K will hit you with the Plumlee Brothers, Miles and Mason, along with Andre Dawkins. The Plumlees have been able to see the court at the same time a little more in this tournament than early in this year and are very athletic big men both standing at 6'10". When the Plumlees come in, you know what you are going to get, some solid minutes, a small scoring contribution, and some good rebounding. However Andre Dawkins is a bit of a wild card. Dawkins has the potential to come in and look lost, or the potential to come in and turn around the game because he is a very pure shooter. If Dawkins struggles early, odds are you won't see him again.
Coaching: (5) Butler: Brad Stevens is a 33 year old coach who quit his 9 to 5 job to come back and chase his dream. Stevens has more wins through his first three seasons than any coach in the history of NCAA Basketball. Stevens is a self proclaimed nerd and number cruncher who was the Horizon coach of the year in 2009 and 2010. All of this said, Stevens will seemingly be outmatched on the sideline by a coaching legend.
(1) Duke: Mike Kryzewski- Five time ACC coach of the year, 12 time ACC Tournament Champion, 12 time ACC Regular Season Champion. So you might think the ACC was down a few years? 12 Elite Eight's, 11 Final Four's, 8 Championship Games, and three NCAA Tournament Championships not including the one he could win Monday. Tack on three Naismith Coach of the Year awards and coaching the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal team and you have Coach K's resume. A lock for the basketball hall of fame makes nearly every coach pale in comparison.
Look for Monday's championship game to be thrilling. Butler has had a knack for building up an early second half lead and clinging to it as time runs down (note the last three games), and Duke has a tendency to simply wear opponents down by getting second chance opportunity after second chance opportunity. If Butler can limit Duke's second chance opportunities they could very well be in this game in the end.
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