In an NCAA tournament chalked full of upsets and unlikely teams advancing deep into the bracket, I guess there’s nothing more fitting than one of the all-time winningest college basketball coaches facing off against a young prodigy—and a small program—in the men’s basketball championship game.
After Brad Stevens’ Butler Bulldogs defeated a Michigan State team whose injuries finally caught up with them, they now have the large task of going up against the only No. 1 seed remaining in Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils.
It has been tagged as the ultimate David versus Goliath match-up.
Coach K has won three championships and been to 11 Final Fours, while Stevens is an up-and-comer in a profession lucky enough to have numerous bright young minds.
It’s as if Stevens is going up against his father or his father’s best friend in a battle of wit and wisdom.
Except this time around, the teacher will school the student.
I have nothing against Butler or do not possess one ounce of fandom for the Dukies, either. Actually, I am pretty tired of the overplayed “Butler is a mid-major which has gone all the way” label.
It boggles my mind how a team ranked in the preseason top 10 can be deemed as a surprise going this far in the most unpredictable tournament in sports.
But the magical run is going to end Monday night in Indianapolis, near to Butler’s own campus.
See, Butler is a very good basketball team.
They are well-coached and have many good athletes who bring different attributes to the team every game. They even have players who may very well be playing in the NBA in the near future (see: Gordon Hayward).
But Duke is a different type of animal.
Everyone and their mother doubted the Blue Devils as being legitimate, believing they would be the first 1-seed to be eliminated from tournament play.
The team played in one of the country’s weaker conferences this year in the ACC, as well as failing to get past the Sweet 16 since 2004—a statistic which seems completely fabricated when considering who heads the men from Tobacco Road.
It has been a year where everything for Duke has come together—lack of injuries, great scoring, and perimeter shooting.
And maybe the biggest difference between this year’s squad and those of the past has been frontcourt play.
Brian Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers have become significant threats, using their large frames to make an impact on both ends of the court.
But their biggest assets are quite obvious. The trio of Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer has been on fire all season long. Each player has elevated his game to a point where opposing defenses have trouble stopping one, if not all, of them.
I just don’t see how Butler can create a game plan to stop the three very talented players. Stevens will have to hope that they just miss shots or make uncharacteristic mistakes, but it hasn’t happened all season long.
On the defensive end, Duke will surely put the majority of its pressure on Hayward.
He is a great athlete with size and above-average speed and he will need to light up the nets if the Bulldogs want any chance of victory. The team as a whole will need to play better offensively as shooting 30 percent will not beat the high-flying Blue Devils.
If Butler wins it will be a great story, one of the best we have ever seen in college athletics.
It would be even sweeter for them to win in their own backyard in front of tens of thousands of their own fans. Not many teams in the history of the sport have been able to accomplish such a feat.
Unfortunately for them, that trend will likely continue and Coach K will be a four-time NCAA champion by night’s end.
One thing is for sure, though: Blue and white confetti will fall from the rafters.