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Entries in Butler (3)


Here's Why Duke-Butler Will Go Down As A Classic

Butler's Gordon Hayward Almost Beats Duke

One Great Season

Many spent Tuesday saying, writing or commenting that Monday night's NCAA Championship game was one of the tournament's best finals ever, and I completely agree.

Some, however, see only a stat sheet that shows both Butler and Duke shot poorly from the field, that neither side scored often down the stretch, thereby making it a mediocre game at best.

A LOOK BACK: Complete NCAA Tournament Coverage From OGS

I learned how to cover sports 20 years ago, as a student at the University of Cincinnati, so I heard Bob Huggins ask short-changing reporters many times, "Don't you think maybe our defense had something to do with their poor shooting?"

I've seen games where teams shot atrociously, but I've seen far fewer games that were played the way Monday night's Instant Classic went down. Rarely did we see open shooters put up brick after brick. Heck, rarely did we see open shooters period.

WEIGH IN: Where Does Duke-Butler Game Rank?

That's because determined defenders hungrily hounded their men, swiftly executed switches or fought through screens. A lack of offensive fireworks doesn't always decrease the quality of a sporting event.

Those who dare to look beyond the stats, overlook their own NCAA allegiances and just appreciate the great sport of college basketball certainly enjoyed every frantic second of Monday night's championship game.

And let's not forget the excellent coaching that went into it either. Duke's legendary Mike Krzyzewski showed great trust in foul-prone big man Brian Zoubek and called only smart and strategic timeouts. His 33-year-old counterpart, Brad Stevens, substituted wisely down the stretch, bringing in one four-foul big man for another, trading offense for defense with Matt Howard and Avery Jukes.

Lastly, usually logical ESPN talk host Colin Cowherd accuses Monday night's admirers of getting caught up in the emotion that comes with a seemingly outmatched underdog hanging in against an established giant. Well, that's exactly what I did and I loved every minute of it. All the side stories about David and Goliath, Cinderella and "Hoosiers" were great build-ups and all of those labels were almost legitimized when fresh-faced Gordon Hayward's 47-footer almost banked in and gave deadline writers a reason to reach for the Rolaids.

Some have gone overboard and said it might have been the best NCAA championship game ever, but I'm not going that far. Had Hayward's shot gone in, perhaps it would command as lofty a ranking as that North Carolina State-Houston thriller in 1983. But I'll bet the passage of time will allow the legend to marinate some, giving storytellers some room to ponder.

Regardless of how memorable you think Monday night's game will prove to be over time, one thing is for sure: It was at least a fitting end to one of the best tournaments in recent NCAA history.


Hoosier Heartbreak: Hayward's Heave Nearly Dumps Duke

Duke Beats Butler In The NCAA Championship

One Great Season

How Hoosier would it have been had Gordon Hayward's half-court heave banked in to give Butler a surprising and thrilling victory over Duke in Monday night's national championship game?

After a missed Duke free throw with 3.6 seconds left, Hayward rose up high for the rebound, dribbled three times, got a serious screen from teammate Matt Howard, dribbled once more, then launched the shot that might have changed the great sport of college basketball forever. Even though it just missed, it might have done so anyway.

INSTANT CLASSIC: Where Does This Game Rank?

It was a great rebound by Hayward, a great screen by Howard, a great shot by Hayward and then, ultimately, a great escape by Duke.

Unlike Jimmy Chitwood's heroic game-winner in the excellent basketball movie "Hoosiers," Hayward's shot from the right side of midcourt hung high in the air, giving the 70,000+ at Lucas Oil Stadium and millions more watching on television a second to shove both arms skyward, hoping for one lucky bounce to complete the real-life version the way a largely anti-Duke America would have wanted it. But then it missed.


+ OPINION: Bob Huggins Is Awesome; He Really Is
+ CANDID INTERVIEW: Former Cincinnati Guard Weighs In On Huggins
+ ANALYSIS: NCAA Should Fix Football Before Expanding Basketball
+ WEIGH IN: Why Does Everybody Hate Duke?
+ READER PARTICIPATION: Share Your Hoops Haiku
+ TV CRITIC: March Adness -- Cheers To Dos Equis
+ RECIPE: 7 Ingredients For A National Championship
+ MARCH MADNESS: Tourney No Longer Leads To April Sadness
+ COUNTDOWN: The Top 10 Title Games Since 1979
+ LIST: The Top 10 Analysts In College Basketball
+ LIST: The Top 10 Play-By-Play Men In College Basketball

"Butler really played like America's team tonight," CBS analyst and Duke graduate Seth Davis said after the game, and truer words could not have been spoken.

Meanwhile, the Blue Devils, considered a heavy favorite by many experts and pretty much hated by all humans outside of Durham, N.C., won their fourth national championship, all since 1991 under future Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Some notes:

+ Don't hate Duke. I've said it many times before; I don't love Duke but I don't hate Duke. Sports are played by people we don't know, so it's a waste of your energy to let things get so far out of perspective. I know the blogosphere is a cool place to hate, but Duke is a great basketball program and the Devils deserved the national championship. Three weeks ago when the brackets were unveiled, many complained of an easy Final Four path for Duke. But Monday night the Devils had to beat a great Butler team that had beaten No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Kansas State and a hot Michigan State team just on Saturday. Butler wasn't just some middling team that got hot a month ago. The Bulldogs were legitimate all season.

+ Monday's game was the lowest-scoring title tilt since the North Carolina State-Houston classic in 1983. On Monday, the lead changed hands 15 times and there were five ties, according to ESPN.

+ Just two days after West Virginia coach Bob Huggins described Duke's semifinal victory as the Devils' best offensive effort of the season, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said the Devils' championship game performance "was good of a defensive effort as I've seen from them all season."

+ ESPN analyst Digger Phelps, usually annoying as he shares nothing of value, actually made a very good point during postgame coverage. Butler is stacked with workman-type role players, and Duke is loaded with experienced players. "This game sends a signal to college basketball. Forget the one-and-done guys. This game shows that coaches can go out and find quality kids and build a program with consistency." Phelps cited a few one-and-done guys like Greg Oden and Mike Conley of Ohio State, Michael Beasley of Kansas State, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis and of course, Kentucky's John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, among others. Lots of talent, no rings.

+ Here's a picture of an on-campus bon-fire celebration at Duke, sent out minutes after the game ended by Twitter user @vitags

+ Kyle Singler was huge Monday and definitely deserved Most Outstanding Player honors. But Butler's foul-prone Matt Howard was making a nice case for himself late. In the final two minutes, he made two layups and grabbed a crucial offensive rebound, then set that wall of a pick for Hayward's final launch. Howard was nice.

+ CBS analyst Clark Kellogg correctly called it "a worthy championship game. Duke won this game. Butler did not lose it." Added Bilas: "This is truly one of the great games and great atmospheres at a Final Four that I can remember."

+ I wasn't crazy about one thing Kellogg's play-by-play partner Jim Nantz said at one point in the second half. Nantz began a short story about how there were two Academic All-Americans playing in the game, "... and they're not on Duke." That wasn't cool.

+ Not surprisingly, Twitter users ripped the Jennifer Hudson version of "One Shining Moment." Other hot Twitter topic: many pined for CBS' Gus Johnson to be in Nantz's chair.

+ Butler coach Brad Stevens said after the game: "We just came up one possession short in a game of about 145 possessions. It's hard to stomach being on the wrong end of that ... You're at peace with (losing because) you've got a group that's given it every single thing they have."

+ Though Duke couldn't pull away like many thought it would be able to do, it stuck with its game plan and continued to give good effort, which often prevails in the long run. With about five and four minutes left, it looked like the Devils were starting to get some separation, which reminded me of Ohio State football under Jim Tressel. Sometimes the Buckeyes won't blow teams out, but once that fourth quarter starts, opposing defenses are worn out from 315-pound linemen leaning on them for three quarters, and then OSU starts to move the ball a little easier and ultimately pulls away. I thought I was starting to see that in the last five minutes from Duke, but Butler made a nice collective reach and stayed in it.

+ Coach K said about an hour after the game: "This was a classic. This was the toughest (championship) and the best one."


Final Four Does Not Give Butler Home-Court Advantage

Butler Advances to The Final Four

One Great Season

All this talk about Butler playing in front of a home crowd this weekend has me doing one thing: disagreeing.

At a neutral-site sporting event like the Final Four or the Super Bowl, is there really such a thing as a home-field advantage? I don't think so.

A Final Four tournament is not held at an intimate setting. It's not a tightly packed group of 13,000 jammed into one school's rickety-old, on-campus barn.

YOUR THOUGHTS: Does Butler Have A Home-Court Advantage?

Final Fours are played at huge, shiny palaces with great new amenities. Lucas Oil Stadium will welcome more than 70,000 on Saturday and again on Monday, most of whom won't be rocking the Butler blue. Many will be using company seats to impress clients, not rooting for the home team.

Butler is actually the host school for the Final Four, but participating universities get unfortunately so few tickets and most of the rest are acquired either via a lottery that's quietly promoted during the previous year's Final Four, or of course through scalpers.

EXTRA: Complete NCAA Tournament Coverage

Sure Butler's players might enjoy sleeping in their own beds most nights this week, but not leaving town might actually do just as much harm as good. They'll likely be bombarded with phone calls and text messages from friends with ticket requests or other distractions.

By the time tipoff rolls around shortly after 6 p.m. ET Saturday, we'll see just as much Michigan State green as anything else. Sparty can travel, especially when it's just a four-hour car ride down Interstate 69 to Indianapolis from East Lansing.