Concussion or Not, Matt Howard Will Not Decide the NCAA Title Game

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↵Aside from the completely played out meme of Hoosiers and Butler, the most hotly discussed story heading into tonight's title game seems to be that of Butler center Matt Howard, who is considered a game-time decision thanks to a concussion he suffered on Saturday late in the game against Michigan State. ↵

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↵Duke has become a handful as a team in the post, particularly with Brian Zoubek taking his play up a few notches. Mix in a double dose of Plumlees and it's a lot to handle for most frontlines. This could be seen as particularly troublesome for a team like Butler, which has three regulars -- Howard, Gordon Hayward and Avery Jukes -- who stand 6-foot-8 or taller. Andrew Smith, a 6-foot-11 freshman, briefly saw action for Butler on Saturday when Howard picked up two pick fouls, which brings me to the main point here: this game will not be won or lost by Matt Howard. ↵

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↵Not to out-and-out slam Howard, but the numbers don't lie. He has taken a step back this season as a player. When watching Butler, it's astonishing how little he's adapted to playing around foul trouble. With just under six minutes gone in Saturday's game, Howard was on the sideline with two quick fouls. He wound up being limited to 15 minutes on the night. The two quick fouls weren't unusual either. It took him almost the exact same amount of time to pick up two fouls in the Elite Eight game against Kansas State, making him a relative non-factor with eight points and four rebounds. ↵

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↵Butler would love to be at full strength with Howard to fight off Zoubek and the Plumlees in the post, but look at the perimeter shooting numbers from Duke on Saturday. Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer combined to hit 12-of-23 3-point attempts. There weren't all that many rebounds to be had, which is why West Virginia only won that battle 27-24, even though it seemed much worse at times. ↵

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↵The Bulldogs' hopes rest on guys like Ronald Nored, Shelvin Mack, Willie Veasley and Gordon Hayward. Those four players will likely be tasked with checking Duke's perimeter bombers. Howard's presence will only matter if these players can keep the Blue Devils from splashing 3-pointers -- something West Virginia failed to do on Saturday. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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