Sunday, April 3, 2011

UConn-Butler, National Championship Preview

Posted by CoHoops DeAnte Mitchell
The stage has been set. The Butler Bulldogs have advanced to their second straight NCAA National Championship after defeating the VCU Rams 70-62.

Butler will face, the UConn Huskies, who are coming off a defeat over the Kentucky Wildcats 56-55.

If you would've asked anyone at the beginning of the season, who would be playing in the National Championship game, most would have given you Duke, Kansas, Pitt, or Ohio State; myself included.

But this College Basketball season has been anything but predictable.

Both teams have defied odds. The Bulldogs were No. 16 in the first Associated Press rankings but fell out the very next week after losing to Louisville.

Mid-season, Butler loss to Evansville and Youngstown State, and wasn't even expected to make the NCAA tournament.

But, the team stayed focused and poised to make a run and receive a NCAA tournament bid after winning the Horizon League conference title.

Butler is now riding a 14-game winning streak and playing better than ever, maybe better than last years team that was runner-ups.

The Bulldogs are a very efficient team. They rarely make mistakes, and seem to mature as the game goes along.

Head coach Brad Stevens is a mastermind. He gameplans better than any coach in America. He continues to put his players in the best position to win the game.

Matt Howard has been "Mr. Clutch" throughout the tournament for Butler hitting back-to-back game winners against Old Dominion and Pitt.

Howard has averaged 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds throughout the tournament and has relished his chance to compete for another championship.

The superstar for Butler, however, has been Shelvin Mack. The 'Mack Attack' has become a popular slogan linked to Mack's game.

Mack has been phenomenal throughout the tournament averaging a team-high 21.8 points per game. Mack's leadership was felt against VCU, turning in his best performance in the NCAA tournament, period.

Mack turned in 24 points and was an efficient 8-of-11 (72%) from the field. He also shot 83 percent from downtown. His experience will certainly be a huge asset to Butler in the title game.

UConn opened the season unranked, with little, to no respect, as a national contender.

The Huskies loss Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson, two very good players but seemed to recover very well with a solid recruiting class that featured seven newcomers.

But, more importantly, the Huskies were able to retain their magnificent point guard Kemba Walker.

At times, Walker has been able to put the Huskies on his back and lead UConn to victory.

During the tournament, not much has changed. Walker currently averages 25 points, 6.8 assist, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals during tournament play.

But, it's not just Walker doing it all. Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriahki, Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith have really stepped up and contributed consistently.

Lamb and Napier have proved to be great assets off of Walker in the backcourt. Napier allows Walker to come off the screens, create his own shots and be effective off the ball.

He also is very active on the defensive end. Lamb has become a great second scoring threat outside of Walker. 

His ability to come off the screen and knock down the jump shot has been beneficial for UConn throughout the tournament.

Smith and Oriahki is the huge key to this UConn team. Smith and Oriahki are strong down on the low block and are sure rebounders.

Their ability to rebound, on both ends, gives UConn a huge edge in the tournament. Lets not forget, UConn is amongst the top rebounding teams in the country.

This time last year, Butler was in the finals and UConn was probably somewhere watching at home.

The Bulldogs watched a last second heave by Gordon Hayward fall short at the buzzer and Butler went home empty-handed.

In familiar territory, you have to believe Butler will have the ultimate gameplan to finally cut down the nets.

Coach Stevens said, "We've just got to be one shot better than last year." Butlers defense needs to be magnificent going up against one of the most dominant players in the game in Walker.

Butler identity on defense has always been playing great man-to-man defense. Throughout the tournament, if anyone is going to force Butler to make an adjustment, it's going to be Walker.

Butler's great on-ball defender Ronald Nored has shown in the past he can stick the opposing teams best player. However, Nored hasn't faced a player quite as gifted as Walker.

That will certainly be a matchup that decides the game. If Walker is just too much for Nored, of course, UConn will be in great position to win the game.

But, if Nored does a great job of defending Walker and can stay out of foul trouble, I like Butler.

If I'm UConn, I want to go after Howard in the post and get him in early foul trouble. When Howard gets in early foul trouble, it's hard for Butler to remain effective.

UConn's defensive is built more on athleticism. The Huskies believe they can guard anyone's five and be effective.

Being physical is key to any game but the more physical team in the post will win. You saw it against Pitt, Butler got out-rebounded, Howard wasn't efficient, Andrew Smith was taken out of his game, and Khyle Marshall was in foul trouble. Now if it Nasir Robinson doesn't make a bone-head foul, who really wins that game?

Nonetheless, these two teams are both similar and this game will be decided in the last minute. The real question is, which superstar leads their team, Mack or Walker?

This game might one of the more evenly matched game in the tournament.

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