Why Butler, UConn will win NCAA title
Last year, the Butler Bulldogs caught the nation’s fancy when they came out of nowhere, made a surprising run in the NCAA tournament and reached the national championship game.
This year, the Connecticut Huskies caught the nation’s fancy when they entered the Big East tournament on the bubble for an NCAA bid and then wreaked havoc on their conference brethren before continuing that run in the NCAA tourney.
The two programs are no longer a secret to anyone, having become America’s favorite squeeze toys. And each will be led in Monday’s title game by a tough but lovable point guard — Shelvin Mack for Butler and Kemba Walker for UConn.
Mack and Walker will play a major role in Monday’s game, but they are only one of five reasons each team can offer as to why it will win the 2011 national basketball championship. Jeff Goodman and Thayer Evans of FOXSports.com make their cases for Butler and UConn, respectively:
Why Butler will win the NCAA title
Last season, eighth-seeded Butler was the lovable upstart trying to win a national championship for the little guy.
But with the Bulldogs back in Monday night’s national championship game for a second straight year, this time against third-seeded Connecticut, college basketball doesn’t think they’re quite so cuddly anymore.
Forget Butler’s mid-major label because when the final buzzer sounds Monday night, they’ll have a new one: national champions.
Here are five reasons why Butler will be cutting down the nets:
1. Brad Stevens: The Bulldogs’ unflappable, brainy coach is simply a genius. Yes, he’s only 34 years old, but forget about his age. It doesn’t matter when a coach has the uncanny ability to make all the right moves like Stevens does to keep his team in big games. He’s sure to have a bedeviling defensive plan to slow Connecticut’s one-man team, guard Kemba Walker, and once again make the in-game adjustments necessary to outfox Huskies veteran Jim Calhoun.
2. Shelvin Mack: Butler's junior point guard isn’t nearly as touted as Walker, but he can be just as lethal in stretches. He demonstrated that again Saturday night in the Bulldogs’ national semifinal victory against Virginia Commonwealth by reeling off 10 straight points against the Rams in the second half to break open the game. He’s averaging a solid 16.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, but those statistics don’t fully depict his impact. Just know this, when his team needs a clutch play, Mack will make it.
3. Three-point shooting: Statistically, Butler isn’t that much better than Connecticut when it comes to 3-pointers. The Bulldogs are making 35.5 percent of their attempts, while the Huskies are at 33.3 percent. Butler, however, is a lot less likely to put up a 1-of-12 clunker from 3-point range like Connecticut did in its semifinal win against Kentucky on Saturday night. Senior guard Zach Hahn, the Bulldogs’ X-factor on 3s, is primed after snapping a shooting funk with a pair of 3-pointers against VCU.
4. Matt Howard: Like Mack, the crafty 6-foot-8 Butler senior power forward is another overlooked star of college basketball. He leads the Bulldogs in scoring (16.7 points) and rebounding (7.8 rebounds) and, most important, isn’t as foul prone as he was last season. He can score inside and has a knack for making hustle plays, but his 3-point shooting will be a problem for Connecticut’s big men. He missed all five of his 3-point shots against VCU but is making 40.9 percent of them this season.
5. Experience: The bright lights of the national championship game didn’t faze Butler last year in its near upset of Duke and won’t Monday night. But the Bulldogs’ familiarity with the stage is a definite advantage. Last year, they entered the title game with pressure on them. This time, the pressure is squarely on Connecticut, which knows that most of the country is rooting for it to lose. Experience is sometimes viewed as overrated, but Butler’s poise will shine when it matters most.
Why UConn will win the NCAA title
No one gave Kemba Walker and the UConn Huskies much of a chance this season — and rightfully so. No one figured Walker, a speedy point guard who made questionable decisions with the ball and couldn’t shoot from the perimeter, could do much with a team full of nine freshmen and sophomores.
But Walker has carried the Huskies to the championship game — and now he has help, as the kids have matured.
The Huskies have regained their swagger after it went south at the end of the regular season. This is a team that has taken its cue from Walker — and believes it can beat anyone.
Winning five games in five consecutive days in the Big East tournament will do that to you.
Here are five reasons why UConn will cut down the nets on Monday night after taking care of Butler:
1. Kemba: The nation’s top player through the first two months or so and after The Jimmer stole the show in January and February, UConn’s junior guard has once again had no peer in the past month. He attracts so much attention from opposing defenses that he not only takes pressure off his young teammates but allows them to get open looks. Put the ball in Walker’s hands and he can make a play just about any time he wants. Butler's Ronald Nored might be a terrific defender, but this lock-down guy hasn’t seen anyone like Kemba in his lifetime. There’s no fear in Kemba Walker, and his teammates feed off that, as well.
2. Toughness: Butler is physically tough; the Bulldogs hammer you on the court. But this Connecticut group also is physically tough — and just as resilient, if not more so. The Huskies get it from Walker and their stubborn coach, Jim Calhoun, and it rubs off on all the youngsters. Most of the nation — and Reliant Stadium — will be pulling for Butler, and that’s just how Calhoun wants it. He thrives on the us-against-the-world mentality.
3. Jeremy Lamb: Butler doesn’t have an answer for this long and talented freshman from Georgia. He was somewhat passive against Kentucky but still managed to finish with 12 points and nine boards. Now the nerves are gone and I don’t think the Bulldogs have anyone who can check Lamb. Look for him to shine in the most important game of the season.
4. The 'Houn: I get all the talk about Brad Stevens. He’s one of the elite young coaches — heck, one of the best coaches period — in the country. But his resume still pales in comparison to Jim Calhoun's. The Huskies' 68-year-old leader has been through it all — and he’s also won two national championships (1999, 2004). Calhoun has 854 career victories, Stevens 117.
5. Matt Howard’s tenacity: The Butler senior big man’s intensity and relentlessness is, for the most part, a major advantage. But Howard’s propensity to commit silly fouls is — and has been — a major concern throughout his career. He certainly has improved on it this year, but he was in foul trouble again Saturday vs. VCU. With Walker getting into the lane and long and athletic guys like Alex Oriakhi and Lamb attacking the glass, Howard could once again be a bystander for much of the game.