During the week leading up to Saturday night’s Final Four match ups, the main storyline was No.11 VCU and their improbable journey to Houston.
The Virginia Commonwealth Rams showed in the first few minutes of the game that they were extremely nervous, as they struggled to set up a half court offense and turned the ball over several times. Down four at halftime, the Rams seemed to still have a chance to continue their postseason run.
However, their memorable run came to an abrupt end as the eight seed Butler Bulldogs used a dominant second half to upend the Rams, 70-62. Despite the loss, the Rams, led by coach Shaka Smart, had one of the more memorable runs in tournament history, as many people, especially Jay Bilas, questioned why the Rams even made the tournament.
After winning five games in the tournament against teams that each play in a “Big Six” conference, I can safely say that the Rams cartainly belonged in the 2011 NCAA tournament.
As for Butler, they were able to prove once again that they certainly deserve to be considered among the country’s top basketball schools. The main reason for that is the highly underrated coaching of Brad Stevens. Before last season’s tournament, Stevens was realtively unknown amongst college basketball viewers. But, after back-to-back Final Four runs, Stevens is quite worthy of being mentioned among the likes of John Calipari, Jim Calhoun, and Roy Williams as a top coach in the country.
Then came the nightcap of the evening, a battle between two of college basketball’s most recognizable schools. The No.3 Uconn Huskies were pitted against a team that surprised many during their Final Four run, the four seed Kentucky Wildcats.
As the Huskies and Wildcats headed to the locker room for halftime, it seemed as if the Huskies were in full control of the game as they led 31-21. However, a young Wildcats team led by star freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, came out firing in the second half. Within the first five minutes, the Wildcats had already reclaimed the lead and seemed to have momentum.
But, as the clocked ticked away in the second half, so did the Wildcats’ energy. The Wildcats slowly deteriorated and the Huskies ended up prevailing, 56-55.
Now that we are down to just two teams, let’s take a look at Monday night’s showdown.
The main advantage heading into tomorrow night’s game is that the Butler Bulldogs have the “been there, done that” factor” on their side. In last year’s title game, the Butler Bulldogs lost by just two points to the heavily favored Duke Blue Devils. With a roster that is quite similar to last year’s, Butler has a large advantage, as they will be able to avoid getting caught up in the moment.
While, the Butler Bulldogs clearly have the advantage in terms of intangibles, the Connecticut Huskies have Kemba Walker.
The junior guard took the college basketball world by storm this year, and his success has continued throughout the tournament. In last night’s semifinal, Walker had a game that is considered below expectations for him, even though he scored 18 points and added seven assists. Walker will be facing a more experienced squad in Butler, so he may struggle to reach that 18 point mark again.
But, if Walker is able to play as well as he has all year, then Butler will have a tough time avoiding an easy win for Uconn. Although Walker is capable of scoring 30 points in any game, it is highly unlikely that he will do so Monday night. Butler’s defense is much better than much of what the Huskies have seen so far in this tournament.
If the Bulldogs can contain Walker, then the Huskies’ offensive game plan will blow up in flames. Outside of Walker, the only other scoring threat for Uconn is Jeremy Lamb, and I don’t even know if you can call Lamb a true scoring threat.
In the end, it will all come down to the team that is more built to win a title; which is Butler. As previously stated, the Bulldogs were in the title game last year and they have much more quality depth than the Huskies. In fact, the Huskies shouldn’t even be in this game, as they won by just one point over Kentucky, despite the fact the Wildcats went 4-12 from the free-throw line.
After 40 minutes of championship basketball Monday night, I expect Butler’s experience and size to prevail over the Huskies and Kemba Walker. If Butler centers their gameplan around Matt Howard, then this year’s result may be a little bit sweeter than last year for the Bulldogs.
Prediction: Butler 65, Uconn 60