Monday, April 5, 2010

Is Match-Up Butler vs Duke, "David & Goliath"?

Many analysts who don't like fairy tales will say that Butler (33-4) is no Cinderella, and that the #5 Seed is nationally ranked and been there before.  But lets make it clear when a small school, yes small, approximately 4512 student enrollment, beats the #1 and #2 teams in their bracket and holds off other aspiring programs along the way.   And then entering the Final Four against a Tom Izzo coached and experienced team, to come out the victor is a Cinderella story rather you want to hear it or not.  Tell me when the last team of this size won a national basketball title at the division 1 level.

Now you have them playing the #1 Duke (34-5) Blue Devils going for national title number four, by the way, Duke's enrollment is 13,457.  Data provided through the "Equity in Athletics" reveals that Duke spent over $394,000 per player last year, Butler spent just over $347,000 on the entire team.  The ACC versus the Horizon League opens the question of the quality of one of the leagues if this is not an unprecedented match up of statistical opposites.  Butler is on a 25 game winning streak and has shot an average of 39% from the field during the tournament with its' opponents shooting at an average of 41%.  Duke shoots 50.3% from the field and scores an average of 69 points per game, a mere 15 points above the Butler defensive limits per game.  But if some of these insignificant stats don't blow you away, let's look at Duke's lineup, 7'1" Brian Zoubek, 6'8" Lance Thomas, 6'10" Miles and Mason Plumlee and 6'8" Kyle Singler for the primary swing to post rotation, against Butler 6'9" Matt Howard, 6'9" Gordon Hayward, 6'3" William Veasle, 6'8" Andrew Jukes, the 6'11" Freshman Andrew Smith rarely plays in close games.  Duke has blown through the tournament, Butler has been in a war just about each time out, but capable of controlling the game down the stretch.

But remember, David did defeat Goliath in the classic biblical altercation.  Regardless of the analysis, with a 33 year old head coach, Brad Stevens, who was 3 years old when legendary Coach "K" took over as head coach of the Duke Blue Devils at the age of 33, matching strategies there is a gross disparity in the championship coaching experience adding another lopsided variable in favor of Duke.

Basketball analyst have Duke favored in tangible areas such as Starting Backcourt, Starting Frontcourt, Bench Strength, and Coaching.  But USA Today gives Butler the edge in the intangibles (hustle, defense, free throw shooting and find ways to win).  Both teams have held their opponents to an average of less than 60 points, with Butler not allowing a single team to exceed 60 points.  So how does David (Butler) beat Goliath (Duke)?  Play a near perfect game the Butler was with Hustle, Defense, Rebound and Control the clock and limit Duke's possession.  Butler will have to challenge every shot and make the Duke post players beat you and don't allow the offense to come from the Big Three, Smith, Singler and Scheyer.

Butler is the Cinderella and this game should end before midnight, so don't count this group out, remember they have found a way to win 25 consecutive games dating back to late December.  A Butler win will be one for the ages.

Butler and Duke in the Finals

Butler-MSU Stats                Duke-WV Stats

When the season started in the fall, Coach Brad Stevens told his team, "why not us in the championship game", as he later said he didn't know if he believed it when he said it, but obviously his players did as Butler (33-4) riding a 25 game winning streak that precedes the last time Santa left the north pole, enters the NCAA Championship Game after slaying the likes of #1 Syracuse, #2 Kansas State and now #5 Michigan State, the 2009 NCAA Runner-Up.  Butler with Gordon Hayward, who looks like he's still in high school, playing for Coach Stevens, who looks like he just graduated high school have manhandled and controlled their prophetic destiny to the finals by playing gritty, smothering defense and out rebounding opponents, while limiting possessions and controlling the clock.  The 52-50 victory over MSU was indicative of the entire run in the tournament, contenting to hold all opponents under 60 points.  The Bulldogs held the Spartans to zero fast break points, and out rebounded the Spartans on the offensive glass.  Even when Butler could not find a field goal in approximately ten minutes, their defense stifled MSU for eight minutes to maintain the slim but controlling lead right through to the end.  Late in the game, with Butler holding a slim lead 52-49, after Ronald Nored's two free throws with 6 seconds to go.  Following an ensuing timeout, Coach Stevens set up a smothering defense that would intentionally foul with 2.5 seconds to go sending Korie Lucious to the line where he would make one and intentionally missed the other, but Hayward would grab his 9th rebound to go with 19 points to preserve the victory and keep the Butler Cinderella script alive.

Duke on the other hand was always one run away from a blowout of West Virginia, who was also riddled with a few injuries that hampered their ability to win without a near mistake free game against a team that was fundamentally sound, played athletically superior and was well coached and prepared by the legendary Mike Krzyzewski.  While Duke received little productivity from its bench in comparison to WV Head Coach Bob Huggins, whose bench provided 14 points and 4 rebounds in 27 combined minutes from three players, while Coach K 4 points and 3 rebounds from the primary three reserves Miles and Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins in 27 minutes between the three.  But it was the now recognized "Big Three", Kyle Singler (21 pts, 9 rebs & 5 asts), Jon Scheyer (23 pts, 6 asts & 2 stls) and Nolan Smith (19 pts & 6 asts) that provided 81% of the team's offense in putting the Mountaineers away relatively easy after De Shaun Butler went down with a knee injury for the remainder of the game with just under 9 minutes to go and the Blue Devils guarding a 9 point lead.  Duke's aggressive defense generated only 10 turnovers, but challenged shot after shot, allowing only 41% shooting and limited WV to 9 offensive rebounds, but only 8 second chance points.  Duke on the other hand had 11 offensive rebounds and 16 second chance points to go with its' 53% shooting and only 5 turnovers.  Coach K moves on to now his 8th championship game, looking for his 4th title Monday night against Butler.