Time: 9:10 PM (EST)
The Battle of the Blue
The Duke Blue Devils were not the most maligned of the No. 1 seeds back on Selection Sunday but they’re the ones still standing heading into the National Championship Game against the #5 Butler Bulldogs. The Blue Devils are 34-5 on the season (23-13-2 against the spread). Not only has Duke surprised many people by getting to the final four as the only number one seed, but no one can say that their run to the national title hasn’t been impressive. Duke has faced Arkansas Pine Bluff, California, Purdue, Baylor and most recently West Virginia and the impressive part is they’ve covered the spread in every single game. Not only are they winning the game, but in doing so, are winning by more than the amount of points given by the oddsmakers’ night-in-night-out. They’ve looked great in the tournament, and with their previously stated record against the spread through the entire season… I personally am not surprised at all Duke playing on Monday Night. It hasn’t only been the stellar play of the three S’s on Duke, (Singler, Smith and Scheyer) but the entire teams defence as a unit against the three pointer has been great, they’ve stepped up their defence and either the stars dominant (WVU) or the bench picks up the slack (Baylor victory).
Coach K has his team playing a stifling perimeter defence which has helped the Blue Devils stay close when their offence isn’t clicking. The play of Scheyer, Singler and Smith has lead the team the entire season but at times when the Blue Devils bench has needed to step up, they’ve done more than expected when called on. Getting past WVU was the hardest part (as 77% of readers voted WVU would win), and honestly it could have been your “National Championship” as they were the two best ranked teams left in the final four. But at times, the Blue Devils made the game look easy scoring at will and dominating on the defensive end while putting up points at will. WVU was always able to keep it somewhat close which should concern Duke fans because Butler is the hottest team in the nation. I got thinking though, those 77% of votes could have been cast by mainly opposing fans (any university/college whether playing Duke or not in the tourney) and skewed the results due to everyones hatred for the Blue Devils. But one thing is certain… the key to stopping Duke will be to put the clamps on the Singler, Smith and Scheyer (at one point they had 57 of Duke’s 69 points against WVU), as well as swinging the ball around the arc quicker than the Blue Devils can defend. Even with that being said, Duke knows how valuable this game is… Butler does too, but has never been at this stage. Coach K’s experience could reign supreme. The other thing that’s almost more certain, there will be a lot of happy Duke fans when the clock hits 0:00… but even more pissed off Blue Devil haters.
The Butler Bulldogs… WOW! That’s all anyone can say now that the Bulldogs are in the Big Dance, even if going into the tournament the Bulldogs had won a nation-high 20 straight games (now at 25). As for this game and the average bettor, don’t be concerned that Butler is a pedestrian 13-12 against the spread in their huge winning streak because most of their ATS (against the spread) losses came in Horizon League Conference games when they were seeing heavy chalk as favourites. But no one, and I mean NO ONE had the Bulldogs going this far in the tournament, even if they have offensive power and the ability to swarm their opponents on defence. To be honest, there are probably millions of people around the globe who took a great UTEP squad to upset Butler back in round one. That, or a second round loss to Vanderbilt (who actually lost in the first round). As a #5 seed, the sweet-16 is do-able and quite frankly… no one should have been surprised when the Bulldogs made it there after riding twenty straight wins. The surprise came when Butler knocked off #1 seed (and 3rd in the nation) Syracuse followed by #2 seed (and 7th in the nation) Kansas St. After those two wins, the entire nation finally believed in the Bulldogs… months after the Bulldogs had already put that same belief in themselves. Some would say Butler’s final four game wasn’t what it could have been if Kansas, Ohio State, or even Georgetown moved on in the Mid-West bracket but those teams all lost to lower ranked team than Butler (who by the way held a top-25 ranking in the nation the entire season).
If you still don’t believe in the Bulldogs, than I don’t know how you can be convinced but the Dogs’ are fine with that…. it’s what drives these guys, and they thrive as the underdog. The skill of Gordon Hayward in undeniable and when partnered with Shelvin Mack, the two give Butler a one-two punch that is incredibly hard to halt. It was evident in the semi-final game against Michigan State when Matt Howard (the Bulldogs big man) got into foul trouble and Hayward and Mack carried the team to victory by scoring 25 of the Bulldogs first 28 points. Add forward Willie Veasley to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a national championship. But will they be able to win their 26th straight, and the oh’ so difficult 6th straight of the NCAA tournament? Only time will tell, but if they don’t win, one thing you can run to the bank with, is that nation-high winning streak will not only be snapped, but also will be in the back of everyones minds (in other words, forgotten forever). After getting this far in the dance, Butler must win as it only seems fitting… unfortunately their cinderella story ends Monday Night.
Filed Under: Sports
About the Author: TheCoach knows his stuff. Now you can either utilize the knowledge, or regret that you didn't.