Butler has already done the improbable by making it to the championship game, but the Bulldogs now have a chance to do the impossible.
Many had Butler losing in the first round of the tournament, and few had it going past the Sweet 16. But Butler has proved the nation wrong by pulling off upset after upset and making its way back home for the Final Four.
Butler opened up the first round against the No. 12 seed UTEP Miners. Butler trailed 33-27 at the half, but Shelvin Mack sparked the Bulldogs early in the second half. The Bulldogs would go on to outscore UTEP 50-26 in the second half and win the game 77-59.
Next up was No. 13 seed Murray State, who was coming off an upset over No. 4 seed Vanderbilt. For the second straight game, Butler trailed at halftime (26-22). Butler played a low-scoring, defensive game and pulled out the close 54-52 victory.
Butler then played No. 1 seed Syracuse in the Sweet 16. Syracuse had dominated its opponents through the first two rounds. Butler's defense held Syracuse to only 25 points in the first half, and the Bulldogs led 35-25 at intermission.
Everybody was waiting for Syracuse to make its move and take a lead in the second half—and Syracuse did.
The Orange took their first lead on a Wes Johnson three-pointer seven minutes into the second half. Butler kept fighting, but the game looked to be getting out of reach as Andy Rautins' three-pointer was followed up by a Kris Joseph dunk and Syracuse took a 54-50 lead.
However, Butler then used an improbable 11-0 run to take a 61-54 lead in the final minute and go on to win 63-59.
Then Butler did more of the same against No. 2 seed Kansas State. Butler's defense held Kansas State to only 20 first-half points. But similarly to Syracuse, the Wildcats made a run late in the second half to give them a lead. Denis Clemente's three-pointer with 4:51 capped off the 13-2 run and gave them a 52-51 lead.
Butler's defense and offensive rebounding then stepped up and held Kansas State scoreless from the 3:05 mark to the nine-second mark. The Bulldogs would make the school's first Final Four appearance after a 63-56 win.
Butler's defense then carried the Bulldogs to the championship game with a 52-50 win over Michigan State. Butler managed to not make a field goal for almost 11 minutes but still held its lead. Gordon Hayward grabbed the rebound off a missed free throw with two seconds left, and the Butler Bulldogs got to celebrate once more.
That leads us to right now: Butler is getting ready to play Duke in the national championship game.
Here is my preview for what each team needs to do in order to win on Monday night.
Keys for Duke to Win a National Championship
Brian Zoubek needs to take advantage of size on the boards
Zoubek is possibly the best offensive rebounder in the country, and he will be going up against guys much smaller than him on Monday. When Zoubek gets offensive rebounds, it leads to open looks on the perimeter for Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, and Nolan Smith.
Speed up the tempo
Butler enjoys playing a slower game. Duke enjoys a faster game. Butler was able to control Michigan State on Saturday by slowing down the game and keeping the score in the low 50s. It will help Duke a lot to make this game faster-paced.
Keys for Butler to Win a National Championship
Control Zoubek's offensive rebounding
Butler will need to do everything possible to limit Zoubek's production on the boards. If Zoubek gets a lot of offensive rebounds, it could be a long night for Butler.
Defend the perimeter
Duke's shooters will not miss often if they are left open for three-pointers. The Butler defenders need to stay close with their men on the perimeters.
Stick to the game plan
Butler has made it this far because of defense. Just because Duke might have the offensive strength to overpower Butler's defense does not mean the Bulldogs should change things up. Defense has taken them this far, and they will need it to win a national championship.
Prediction: Butler 62, Duke 61
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