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If you're looking for one game story to read after last night's epic championship, look no further. From Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski:
The ball is in the air. And because the ball is in the air, anything is possible. Miracle? Heartbreak? Pandemonium? Silence? Yes. Anything. That's the beauty of a magical game like this, and also the pain. The basketball is in the air. If it misses, Duke wins one of the greatest championship games ever. And if it goes in (and it looks like it is going in), Butler wins the greatest game that has ever been played.
The basketball is in the air, a 45-foot shot that looks like it is going in, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski knows that if it goes in, the right team won. And he also knows that if it misses, the right team won, too. This is that kind of game. Both teams have played impossibly hard. Every player defended with every ounce of strength they had. Every player made a winning play -- something, a rebound, a block, a devastating pick, a tough foul, a big shot, a good pass, a hard drive to the basket -- that added a line or shade to this masterpiece. Duke wore white, and Butler wore dark blue (the opposite of the image they came into this game with), but they played so much the same -- the same energy, the same violence, the same togetherness, the same purpose -- that at some point they just seemed to mix together into this wonderful blend of gray.
What a game. What a night. Everybody knows the amazing Butler story, but the truth is that there was a Duke story, too. Nobody thought this was a great Duke team. Seven times in 24 years, Krzyzewski had coached a Duke team into the national championship game, a staggering achievement, but each of those teams had that certain Duke aura. Those were terrific teams, and they were expected to be terrific teams, and they had All-Americas, and, well, this team was different. This team had very good players, of course. But there were no first-team All-American. There was no Grant Hill here, no Christian Laettner, no Jay Williams or Shane Battier. The core of this team got drilled in the Sweet 16 of the tournament last year by Villanova, and the bulk of this team lost three of its first seven conference games. They were good all year. But they just seemed vulnerable.
It gets better from there. If you're looking for something to entertain you over lunch, this is it.
Here's some news to make the CBS suits smile: last night's title game drew a 16.0 rating, the highest in over a decade, according to Sports Media Watch.
And, really, it shouldn't be too surprising. After all, we had Duke -- essentially the Yankees of college basketball, a team everyone outside of Durham loves to hate -- pitted against a real-life Hoosiers story trying to become the first "real" mid-major (read: a program that doesn't spend a ton) to win the championship in the modern 64-team era. Throw in a thrilling finish (the ratings peaked at 20.3 at 11:30), and you had the perfect storm for a ratings bonanza.
The 16.0 rating represents a marked increase over the past several championship games; up 34% from last year's UNC-Michigan State tilt, 25% from the 2008 Kansas-Memphis showdown, and 18% from the Florida-Ohio State game in 2007. In fact, it was the highest-rated title game since 1999 when...you guessed it, Duke lost another white-knuckler to Rip Hamilton's UConn squad.
So for all of you tin-foil hatters out there who suggested Duke received such a favorable draw this year out of consideration for television ratings, there's no way that's true...right?
This is a headline that ran on the Indianapolis Star's website last night. And... Uh... Oops?
"Believe it: Butler is National Champion after defeating Duke in title-game classic."
They were so close.
If you hate Duke, prepare to be infuriated:
You can discuss in the comments, but just food for thought. For some reason, this whole discussion is couched in rhetoric about Krzyzewski's performance "leading Team USA to Gold" and I'd just like to note two things. First, I can't remember another coach getting anywhere close to as much credit for leading Team USA to a Gold medal, and second, Coach K probably had the most talented U.S. team since the Dream Team.
As for his performance with Duke this year, well, they won. So it's hard to argue he didn't do a great job. But does that really put him in the discussion for the best coach in any sport?
Since the game went late (and let's face it, nobody wants to watch Duke celebrate), many of you may have missed CBS' iconic "One Shining Momnent" montage. Or maybe you'd just like to watch it again. Whatever the case, you can click here to check it out.
Elsewhere on this site we've called "One Shining Moment" some not-nice names, and it's really true. The song, itself, is pretty ridiculous. And that's why my biggest complaint about this year's video is that there was far too much Jennifer Hudson. It's not about the stupid song, CBS. We get it; There was a new singer this year. No need to remind us by cutting away from the highlights every fifteen seconds to show Hudson singing in a recording booth.
That, and there should have been more highlights of Xavier and Kansas State, still the most memorable game of the tournament. And more from Ohio and Northern Iowa, who pulled off the two biggest upsets of the year. But enough nitpicking of some poor editor that's been working for a month straight on tournament coverage.
Conceptually, the montage is still pretty awesome for anyone that likes college basketball, and this year delivered the goods just like all the others. Even with the cheesy lyrics and cut-aways to a bloated Jennifer Hudson, it's impossible not to love this stuff. It's the tournament in three melodramatic minutes, prompting even the cynics among us to get a little sentimental. Right?
If nothing else, it's why I hope CBS keeps the Tournament.
(But for the record, any sports montage NOT scored to Explosions in the Sky had better have a damn good reason.)
Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) - Duke and Hall of Fame head coach Mike Krzyzewski are back on top of the college basketball world again, surviving an incredible effort from Butler, winning the NCAA Tournament title, 61-59, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
In one of the best championship games ever played, the Blue Devils nearly blew a five-point lead with under two minutes left but held on.
Gordon Hayward had a chance to give Butler the lead in the final seconds, but his high-arching jumper from the right baseline over Brian Zoubek caromed off the rim. Zoubek grabbed the rebound and made the first foul shot with 3.6 seconds left. He then intentionally missed the second.
Hayward grabbed the rebound and dribbled to midcourt, received a crushing screen from teammate Matt Howard, but his desperation shot hit off the backboard and rim as the little school from Indianapolis came up just short.
Duke (35-5) won the title for the fourth time in school history and for the first time since 2001 when the Blue Devils upended Arizona.
"I love this team and it's our last day together," said Krzyzewski, who joined John Wooden and Adolph Rupp as the only coaches to win at least four NCAA championships. "What a way to celebrate on the last day together."
The glass slipper fit well for Butler (33-5) until Monday night when the Bulldogs, playing less than six miles from their campus arena, lost their 25- game winning streak and failed at giving the mid-major Horizon League a coveted national championship.
It was an incredible effort for the Bulldogs, led by 33-year-old head coach Brad Stevens, but the title was not to be against the powerhouse from the ACC.
With a packed crowd watching on TV at Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of the Bulldogs, a school with an enrollment of nearly 4,000 was ready to go into a frenzy in the final minutes.
Duke junior forward Kyle Singler scored 19 points, had nine rebounds and was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. Jon Scheyer added 15 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Nolan Smith scored 13 for the Blue Devils.
Hayward and Shelvin Mack each scored 12 for the Bulldogs, while they also received 11 points from Howard and 10 from Avery Jukes.
Smith hit two foul shots with just over three minutes left to provide Duke with a 60-55 lead.
Howard, who was questionable for the game after suffering a concussion against Michigan State Saturday, made a layup with less than two minutes left. Smith then missed on a drive to the hoop.
Mack missed a three-pointer at the other end, but Howard came up with the offensive rebound and eventually powered inside for a bucket with 54.8 on the clock.
Singler was well off the mark on a jumper at the other end, and the ball caromed off Zoubek's foot and out of bounds, giving Butler the ball with 33.7 seconds left.
Zoubek deflected a pass out of bounds, giving Butler 13.6 seconds to go following a timeout, when the final dramatics took place.
The Blue Devils raced to an early 6-1 lead, but the tenacious Bulldogs eventually pushed to a 12-11 edge courtesy of a Zach Hahn three-pointer.
A tip-in by Willie Veasley provided the Bulldogs with a 20-18 edge, but then the game had a couple of big shifts of momentum. The Blue Devils scored eight in a row, capped by a Singler drive to the basket with just over five minutes left.
Stevens called a timeout, and the Bulldogs put in the ensuing seven points, moving ahead on a Jukes three-ball from the left corner.
Smith then scored in the lane for Duke and Scheyer followed with a jumper. The teams traded three-pointers in the final minute, with Jukes getting the final bucket to trim Duke's lead to 33-32 at the half.
Ronald Nored hit a three-pointer to give Butler a 43-42 edge with 13 1/2 minutes left, but the Blue Devils came back with the next five points.
Duke's Lance Thomas picked up his fourth foul with 5:07 left in the game. Hayward received a long outlet pass and cruised in for a possible layup, but Thomas reached for the ball and pulled down Hayward as he landed under the bucket. Hayward made both foul shot to get the Bulldogs within 56-55.
Butler, which took down No. 1 seed Syracuse in the West regional semifinals before topping Kansas State and then Michigan State, was the smallest school to reach the national title game since the tournament expanded in 1985...Duke, which was coming off a Final Four win over West Virginia, received eight points and 10 rebounds from Zoubek...Duke ended 5-of-17 from three-point range, while Butler was 6-of-18 from long distance...The Blue Devils ended at 44.2 percent from the field to Butler's 34.5 percent mark...Hayward made all eight of his foul shots and ended with eight rebounds.
We're now less than one hour from tip-off, perfect time to check in with the SB Nation blog network about Monday night's national championship game between Butler and Duke.
At CougCenter, our Washington Sate blog, they offer an extensive preview, and point out what they think will be a key to the game: defensive rebounding, something Butler does very well.
People wonder why I harp on that as an important defensive skill, but the Bulldogs are the perfect example of why it matters. They're good-not-great at a lot of things, but the fact that they don't give opponents extra opportunities to score makes them a great defensive team overall. That's how important it is to end possessions, and it was the difference against Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State. Butler held them all to under 30 percent offensive rebounding -- and these are teams that were at 37.6, 40.4 and 39.7. They are able to take relatively ordinary talent and produce simply extraordinary results through being better fundamentally than all of their opponents.
They're likely going to have to be just as extraordinary tonight if they want to have a chance of shutting down Duke and pull off what will be considered an accomplishment of historical proportions. The Blue Devils have only been held under 42 percent offensive rebounding once in this tournament (by Cal, oddly enough), and that's not an accident -- they ranked No. 6 nationally in OR%.
And now, more Open Game Threads then you know what to do with:
Double-T Nation: NCAA March Madness Open Thread :: National Championship Game
Blogging the Bracket: National Championship Game Open Thread
The Only Colors: National Championship Game Open Thread
Black Heart Gold Pants: WE'RE TALKIN' BASKETBALL: White On White Crime For The Title (complete with a bingo card!)
Building The Dam: NCAA Basketball National Championship Open Thread
California Golden Blogs: National Championship Open Thread: Duke vs Butler
The UConn Blog: TheOpenThread: Butler vs. Satan, NCAA title game
Butler center Matt Howard, who suffered a concussion in the Final Four game with Michigan State, has been cleared by team doctors after not showing lingering effects and is expected to play in Monday night's national championship game.
"Matt has been symptom-free since our practice," Butler athletic trainer Ryan Galloy said in a statement. "If nothing changes, we expect him to play."
To say that Howard is an important part of the Bulldogs team would be accurate: last year's Horizon League Player of the Year is Butler's third-leading scorer this season, with 11.6 ppg. And at 6-foot-8, he'll be needed to contend with Duke's big man, 7-1 Brian Zoubek.
Head coach Brad Stevens said on Sunday "that Howard would not play if there were any risk to his health."
Back in 2001 when the St. Louis Rams were doing their Greatest Show On Turf thing, head coach Mike Martz had a term for a near flawless performance: Max Q. It referred to their hypothetical optimal level of play, regardless of the competition. Ladies and gentlemen, we witnessed Duke's Max Q against West Virginia on Saturday.
Coach K's squad scored over 1.4 points per possession against what had been a stout West Virginia defense, hitting an assortment of three-pointers from all over the court, with their front-line collecting their few misses to kick out for even more open jumpers. It was an eye-opening win for a Duke team who really hadn't beaten any top teams during the regular season, flopping in most of their marquee nonconfenerence matchups.
With Duke seemingly peaking at the most opportune time, is there any hope for the legions of Duke-haters out there of Butler pulling off the biggest upset in the history of history? We've gone back and looked at how both teams have played thus far in the tourney, compiling their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies (that is, how many points they have scored and allowed per 100 possessions, taking into account their opponents), as well as the percentage of rebounds they've grabbed in their NCAA tournament games, to get a better idea of Butler's chances.
Offensive efficiences are listed first, followed by defensive efficiencies.
The bad news for Dick Vitale's favorite team is that they can't possibly play another game like their last one. The other bad news is that in Butler, the Blue Devils will be facing their toughest defensive opponent yet.
Over the last two games, Butler has aggressively trapped guards off the high-screen-roll, and Duke can expect to see much the same treatment. While the massive Brian Zoubek is especially adept at freeing teammates for shots on screens (as Purdue's Chris Kramer discovered in their Sweet 16 game), neither he nor any of Duke's other bigs are much of a threat to do much offensively. Butler should once again be able to trap with impunity off the high-screen-roll, meaning that Duke will have to rotate the ball quickly to their weak-side shooters and beat the help defense. As a counter, don't be surprised if Coach K throws a wrinkle at Butler and has Kyle Singler come over to screen, before slipping towards the basket to try to keep the Butler defenders honest.
But even if Duke's Big Three of Singler, Scheyer and Smith struggle against Butler's trademark man-to-man, there is the little matter of Duke's bigs, who have been the key for Duke's transformation from overrated contender to legit elite team. Up to this point in the tournament, the Blue Devils have put up an absolutely absurd adjusted rebound rate of 47.6, meaning that against an average opponent Duke would rebound nearly half of their own misses. If Zoubek, Lance Thomas, and the Plumlees can continue to physically dominate on the glass, don't be surprised if Jim Nantz spends the majority of the second half gushing over how Coach K winning titles is a tradition unlike any other in college hoops.
For Butler, the title game will hinge on two very simple questions: first, can they keep Duke's phalanx of big men off the offensive glass; and second, can they muster enough scoring themselves?
Given their performance in the tournament to this point, there's reason to believe the smaller Bulldogs will be able to neutralize, or at least limit, what figures to be the Blue Devils' sizable advantage on the boards. Indeed, while Butler has been outrebounded in all but one of their tournament games, that's due more to deliberate strategy than anything else. Butler obsessively sends players back in transition defense, trying to control the pace and thwart any easy looks at the basket, so they typically don't pick up more than a handful of offensive rebounds; through their five tournament games they've posted an adjusted offensive rebound rate of only 25.3.
But Brad Stevens' squad applies this all-consuming focus on preventing opponents from getting easy looks to the defensive backboards as well. Despite their low offensive rebound rate, they've only been outrebounded by small margins due to their own stingy work on the defensive glass. Outside of their second-round game against Murray State (who quietly were the 11th-best offensive rebounding team in the nation), Butler has more or less prevented opponents from getting second shots, allowing them an adjusted offensive rebounding rate of 24.4. And that includes games against offensive rebounding powerhouses Kansas State and Michigan State, who were 6th and 10th nationally in the category. With the news that center Matt Howard has been medically cleared to play in the title game, it's reasonable that Butler could hold Duke to a raw offensive rebound rate of 30-35, which should be enough to keep them competitive.
Howard's availability should also be a substantial boost to Butler's offense, as he gives them the post presence they will so desperately need against Duke. Look for Butler to go to Howard early and often, as they try to Zoubek et. al. into early foul trouble, both to limit the damage Duke does on the boards, as well as to counter the aggressive perimeter defense the Blue Devils employ. Indeed, Duke boasted the top three-point percentage defense in all of Division I this season, so Butler, who have shot over 40% of their field goals come from distance in the tournament, will have to find a way to get to the line and score from in close if they're going to make their real-life Hoosiers story come true. Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward figure to be prominently involved if Butler is to pull off the improbable.
While all of the stats favor the Blue Devils, and Coach K's squad certainly seems to have a fair amount of blowout potential in this matchup, something tells me Butler will be able to ugly up the game enough to keep it close till late. Look for Butler to hold yet another opponent below 60 points, capping off their Cinderella run with a 61-59 win.
SB Nation's Chris Dobbertean, editor of Blogging The Bracket, looks ahead to Monday night's National Championship game between South top seed Duke and West No. 5 Butler.
If this is how the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament's 64/65-team era is to end, the matchup is at least fitting. I've gone on record many times saying that the first weekend, particularly the first round, is my favorite part of this event. I'm certainly not alone on that.
Ignoring the two teams' preseason rankings and seed numbers and just looking at the names on the front of the jersey and their respective places in the game's history, tonight's final, pitting the power conference favorite, Duke, against plucky underdog, Butler, hearkens back to that first weekend. The powerhouses against the mid-majors.
There wasn't much of a home court advantage for the Bulldogs on Saturday night, thanks to the crowd being split four ways. But with the departure of many Michigan State and West Virginia fans (and the negative feelings many neutrals may exhibit toward the Blue Devils), Butler should be the clear favorite among the fans on Monday night.
It still won't be the advantage they'd have six miles away at Hinkle, however.
On the court, this looks to be a difficult matchup for Butler, especially if Shelvin Mack has cramp issues again and Matt Howard isn't totally recovered from the mild concussion he suffered during the second half of Saturday's semifinal win over Michigan State (ed. note: CBS Sports reports Howard has been medically cleared to play and participated in the team's shootaround Monday afternoon. Barring any setbacks he should be a go for Butler in the title game).
Howard certainly didn't look like himself during the final moments of that one, which included the now famous 10-minute span where the Bulldogs didn't hit a field goal. You don't need to know too much about these teams to figure that such a dry spell against Duke would be absolute doom. I don't see the combo of Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer struggling to take advantage of a lengthy opposition dry spell like Michigan State did. But the Butler guards, most prominently Mack, Ronald Nored, Shawn Vanzant and Willie Veasley, are known for locking things down against opposing guard units, even very good ones (see Kansas State and Syracuse).
Once again, Butler will have to rely on its defense and ability to get to the foul line to claim the biggest victory in their program's history. However, considering the success Duke had against West Virginia's defense on Saturday, the Bulldogs have their work cut out for them, especially inside where Brian Zoubek, Mason and Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly provide Duke with a nearly endless supply of fouls (especially when Matt Howard's potential to get into foul trouble is added to the equation). The Blue Devils will use that advantage on the boards, which could create a problem for a Bulldog team known for getting back on defense instead of grabbing offensive rebounds.
Plus, the Blue Devils probably won't be as inept on their own free throw attempts as Michigan State and Kansas State were in their games.
Our Duke Basketball Report writes that Butler reminds them a lot of the Virginia team that gave Duke fits in the ACC Tournament, and that once again, whichever team makes the most of its strengths will come out on top.
This game, like most, is going to come down to which team can most successfully exploit their strengths. Butler plays a very intelligent game offensively and defensively, while Duke has combined three-point shooting, defense, and superb rebounding to get this far. And their defense doesn't get as much credit as it should, but it's been good too.
If Duke allows Butler to set the pace like Virginia did in Greensboro, has trouble penetrating, and can't hit three-point shots, they will be in trouble. And if Butler allows Duke to push them around on the boards, and to hit three-point shots, they'll be in trouble, too.
My pick is the Blue Devils by eight.
The final tips at 9:21 p.m. ET on CBS and NCAA® March Madness on Demand®, so if you find yourself without a TV, but with a computer and Internet access, you won't have to miss a thing.
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