Duke is the pick by score of 73-56
By JIM O'CONNELL
A look at today's national championship game:
DUKE (34-5) VS. BUTLER (33-4)
ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR
No. 1 Duke beat No. 16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 73-44; No. 8 California 68-53; No. 4 Purdue 70-57; No. 3 Baylor 78-71; No. 2 West Virginia 78-57.
No. 5 Butler beat No. 12 UTEP 77-59; No. 13 Murray State 54-52; No. 1 Syracuse 63-59; No. 2 Kansas State 63-56; No. 5 Michigan State 52-50.
Duke's three-man perimeter attack did just that in the win over West Virginia with Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith combining for all but 15 of the Blue Devils' points. The Big Three were 12 of 23 from 3-point range. Each has had a bad shooting game in the tournament, but the other two stepped up in each case.
Gordon Hayward had 19 points and nine rebounds in Butler's win over Michigan State, and Shelvin Mack battled leg cramps to score 14. The two have combined to average 32.6 points for a team that has struggled from the field.
If the game were a battle of whistles and clipboards it's no contest.
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski would tie Adolph Rupp for second place all-time with four national championships. He has a record 76 wins in the NCAA tournament, 13 less than Butler's Brad Stevens has in his entire career. Coach K is in his 30th season at Duke; Stevens is 33 years old.
Butler came out of the Michigan State game with some injury concerns. Center Matt Howard hit his head with 9 minutes to play, was obviously affected by it in limited minutes the rest of the way and did not practice yesterday because of what was called the "mildest of mild concussions." He will be re-evaluated today. Mack's leg cramps limited him to 8 minutes in the second half.
Duke has outrebounded opponents by 10 per game in the NCAA tournament, an area of concern for Butler, which has been outrebounded by 3.4 per game. The Blue Devils have the only true big man in 7-foot-1 Brian Zoubek, who has averaged 10 rebounds per game over the last 15 games and is one of the big men who set screens that allow the perimeter shooters a little more room.
Butler is on one of the NCAA tournament's best defensive streaks ever, not allowing any team to reach 60 points in a game. The Bulldogs' total margin of victory in the five games is 15 points, including two-point wins over Murray State and Michigan State.
Duke's low point total in the tournament is 68, and the Blue Devils are averaging 73.4 points in the tournament. The closest any team has come to Duke is seven points.
Butler is the feel-good story of the tournament, and the Bulldogs will have most of the 70,000-plus in Lucas Oil Stadium pulling for them. If Howard and Mack are limited, the Butler bench doesn't have a player on it averaging over 3 points in the tournament.
Duke has a big advantage inside with Zoubek even if Howard does play, and the odds of the three Ss having their first poor game as a unit is remote at best.
Duke wins title No. 4, 73-56.