2011 NCAA Final Four: Kemba Walker and Matt Howard Will Shine
Kemba Walker is a shooting revelation in the eerily similar mold of Huskie alum Ben Gordon and is poised to follow right in his footsteps. Except Walker doesn't have an All-American like Emeka Okafor in the middle taking most of the scoring load off, just a more unpolished talent in Jeremy Lamb.
But will this hurt his title chances versus the bigger, more physical Kentucky team?
Likely not, and here's why.
Walker is improving as the tourney progresses—not just on the stat sheet, where he's dropped over 30 twice and passed the ball effectively versus Bucknell and Arizona, but where it's mattered most: in the leadership and clutch-play department.
Just check out his finish versus the Wildcats and Aztecs—versus the latter, he scored the last 14 points of the game, completely disheartening SDSU's fierce determination.
No one took that loss harder than I did, as an SDSU alum, but Walker has made a believer out of many in this tourney.
Yet, despite Brandon Knight as a decent on-ball defender and the Wildcats' height giving Walker some trouble, Walker's speed and range will overcome and his heart will lead them to a title shot.
Two words on Matt Howard: experience and thirst.
Howard, the Bulldogs' leader since Gordon Hayward went on to greener pastures, is showing just how painful last year's loss at the buzzer was. In fact, Howard shot poorly in the 2010 tourney, especially in the Final Four where he went a horrid 4-of-15 versus Michigan State and Duke.
This year is retribution, as he's shot near 50 percent the last two games, notched 12 big boards versus Wisconsin and stepped up his vocal leadership amidst the outstanding "Robin" play of Shelvin Mack versus Florida.
Also, let's not forget his huge offensive put-back to beat ODU at the buzzer. Yes, that's what seniors do.
Still, Howard must come through even bigger for Butler to win. Most importantly, he has to take timely shots, crash the boards with sheer ferocity and watch those fouls.
And he will have the underdog card to play again once they vanquish VCU.
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