Setting : It all comes down to this. Lucas Oil Stadium is the stage. Brad Stevens and his No. 5 seed Butler Bulldogs (33-4) do battle with Mike Krzyzewski and his No. 1 seed Duke Blue Devils (34-5).
Plot : Horizon League meets the Atlantic Coast Conference for the national championship.
Sub-plot : In his third season of coaching, Stevens seeks Butler’s first title. Krzyzewski has guided three Blue Devil teams to titles.
The Blue Devils will be the second No. 1 seed the Bulldogs have faced in the tournament. Butler’s Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack are both game-time decisions.
Flashback : Duke won the only meeting between the two schools, on Jan. 30, 2003. Dahntay Jones scored 25, and Shavlik Randolph added 24 off the bench as the Blue Devils won at Cameron, 80-60.
Butler is making its 10th NCAA Tournament appearance and first trip to the national final. This is Duke’s 34th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and 10th time in the championship game.
Foreshadowing : Fifty-one former Blue Devils have made their way to the NBA. Current alums include Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Elton Brand, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Gerald Henderson, Grant Hill, Dahntay Jones, J.J. Redick, and Shelden Williams. Butler is waiting on its first NBA guy.
Conflict : Butler has surrendered more than 60 points just once in their last 13 games. Duke averages 77 per outing, including 78 against West Virginia and Purdue.
Butler created 16 turnovers in their defeat of Michigan State. The Spartans scored zero transition points in the semifinal as the Bulldogs chose to not attack the offensive glass.
Butler’s best defense has been and will continue to be a slow, deliberate offense.
Gordon Hayward leads four Bulldogs in double digits. The silky smooth swing man provides versatility to the lineup. At 6′9″, Hayward can go inside and get work done. He averages almost nine boards a game and can finish in the paint. Hayward has also hit 47 3-pointers on the season. Stevens has called on Hayward to run the offense from time to time. With Howard on the bench Saturday, Hayward drew the assignment of stopping MSU’s Draymond Green.
Matt Howard adds almost 12 points and five rebounds. He is textbook type of player in the paint whose work could be a how-to video used at summer camp. His health will be important for Butler’s success.
Shelvin Mack leads the Bulldogs with 70 from behind the arc. Mack hits 39 percent from long range.
The only senior in the lineup, Willie Veasley, chips in 10 points and four rebounds.
Ronald Nored runs the point at just a touch under 2:1 assist to turnovers.
Zach Hahn comes off the bench and hits 4o.9 percent from long range.
Shawn Vanzant, Avery Jukes, and Andrew Smith will supply valuable minutes off the bench.
The emergence of Brian Zoubek and freshman Mason Plumlee gives Duke a well-rounded attack. Zoubek has grabbed double-digit rebounds in three of Duke’s tournament wins, including 10 in Saturday night’s triumph over West Virginia.
Make no mistake, though; Butler must contend with Duke’s big three: Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler. The trio combine for 53 points and 13 rebounds per game.
Scheyer scores 18 a game to go with an assist to turnover ratio of 3:1. If Duke holds a late lead, Scheyer is deadly from the line–190-216 (88.0).
Singler’s rebounded from a tough outing against Baylor by scoring 21 against the Mountaineers. Singler has 23 double-digit performances in Duke’s last 24 games.
Smith averages 17. The junior guard mixes a long-range game (59-148) from behind the arc with a quick first step that allows him to get into the paint.
Lance Thomas scores slightly below five a game and grabs 4.9 rebounds.
Resolution : Butler has relied upon turnovers to create offense. Those chances will decrease against the experienced Duke back-court. Michigan State, Kansas State, and Syracuse looked uncomfortable having to run half-court offense for 40 minutes. Duke will not be so easily frustrated. The Blue Devils piled up 20 assists while hitting 29 field goals against West Virginia. Scheyer, Smith, and Singler know how to manufacture points.The Bulldogs will ride the wave of emotion, but the Blue Devils will have the last word. Duke brings home its fourth title.
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