Butler has the talent to upset Duke in the NCAA championship game

Butler, Michigan State, Duke and West Virginia battle in Indianapolis for the NCAA men's basketball championship.
By John Feinstein
Monday, April 5, 2010


There are a number of people here who have grown tired of the comparisons being drawn between Butler 2010 and Milan 1954 -- the Indiana high school team whose story was made into the stuff of legends by the movie "Hoosiers."

Those people are going to have to deal with it -- at least for one more game, and perhaps forever if Butler can beat Duke in Monday's national championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Duke is, without question, the opponent a screenwriter would choose for Butler in this game. The Blue Devils are to college basketball what Muncie Central was to Indiana high school basketball 56 years ago. They are the power team, the one with the superstar coach and the swagger of a team most people will expect to win a fourth national title when they play the Bulldogs.

What's more, the way the two semifinal games played out on Saturday night will give people reason to shake their heads and say that Butler has had a great run that is bound to end against the Blue Devils.

Butler scraped by Michigan State, 52-50, on pure grit. With two starters injured for most of the game's last 10 minutes, the Bulldogs had almost no offense. After a Willie Veasley steal and dunk put Butler ahead 44-37 with 12:18 to play, the Bulldogs made one field goal--a layup by Gordon Hayward with 1:36 to go after Shawn Vanzant had somehow grabbed a Hayward miss and gotten the ball back to him--and scored eight points in all down the stretch.

That was enough, though, because Butler is probably the one team in the tournament that can play half-court defense at Duke's level. A lot of people thought West Virginia was that team before Saturday, but the Blue Devils carved the Mountaineers up almost from the start. They shot better than 50 percent from the field for only the second time in their last 25 games. Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith all shot well on the same night for the first time in memory, combining for 63 of Duke's 78 points in a stunning 78-57 win.

"Usually we get two of the three shooting well," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Tonight we had all three guys shooting well and that's a plus."

West Virginia just showed up on the wrong night, one that more or less ended when Da'Sean Butler hurt his knee on a drive to the basket with a little less than nine minutes left. Duke was already leading 63-48 and a WVU rally looked unlikely, but Butler's injury sealed the deal. After he was taken off in a golf cart, the building was so quiet the rest of the night, you might have thought someone was lining up a key putt at a golf tournament.

It won't be that way on Monday. The Butler fans had the place jumping in Saturday's first game and that will no doubt be the case again during the final. This is a dream matchup: The baby-faced, 6-foot-9 Hayward is Jimmy Chitwood (the fictional version of Milan hero Bobby Plump), Duke is Muncie Central, and you can also cast Butler as Cinderella if you need a fairy tale not based in fact. Krzyzewski, as you might expect, tried to play down the Cinderella/Hoosiers theme. "To me, a Cinderella is a team that loses eight, nine games and then gets on a run in the tournament," he said. "Butler's won 25 games in a row. They beat Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State to get here. They're an outstanding basketball team. I know [that] because Butler hasn't been in a Final Four, people will call them Cinderella. I think they're here because they've earned it."

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