Wow! Had no idea what a great game this would be. Thought Duke might control the game, but this scrappy, hard-nosed, highly skilled team from Indianapolis gave the mighty Duke Blue Devils everything they wanted and were one bounce away from winning it all. This game was more about Butler than it was Duke. The ultimate underdog throughout, they proved once again that heart and character really do matter in sports; it's not just about talent. But Butler was a talented team. Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack may both play on the next level. The good thing for Butler is that both are just sophomores. They have a lot of guys coming back. The gritty and courageous Ronald Nored, the pride of Homewood, is a sophomore. First team Academic All-American Matt Howard, a hard-nosed competitor and great inside presence, is coming back. This could be a special team once again next year.
Duke found a way to win. Coach K said after the game that they didn't expect to win it this year. He had a good group of players who fought very hard, but he probably didn't think they had enough. Most people, including me, didn't think they could win it all. Had them losing to Kentucky in the semis. While Kentucky fell to West Virginia because of lack of experience and poor outside shooting and Kansas got outclassed by another bunch of overachievers in Northern Iowa, Duke stayed mentally tough throughout, and they're Duke, they know how to win big games.
It was a classic game. One that should be remembered for many years. Kyle Singler, a tremendous player for Duke who had 19 points on seven-of-13 shooting including three-of-six from trifecta along with nine rebounds, was the MVP, deservingly so. One of the Big three would step up– you knew Butler couldn't shut them all down–and it was Singler's night to shine.
But how about a school whose players actually went to class yesterday on game day, the biggest game of their lives? That's impressive, but it's the way it should be if you're six miles from the championship venue.
Duke and Butler put on a classic in front of 70,000. Both didn't shoot that well, Butler at 34.5% from the field including 33 from three, while Duke did shoot 44% from the field, but only 29% from three. The rebounding was close with Duke getting the nod at 36-32.
Hayward launched what would have been an improbable three and it hit the backboard and was just an inch or two hard as it hit the front of the rim and trickled off. It was so close. Heartbreaker for Butler and most of America who was pulling for Butler.
I thought it was a close call whether Duke should have made or missed that final free throw. Coach K is an awesome coach and I rarely question his decisions; they're usually right. But it almost backfired. If Zubek makes it, Butler has to make a three to tie it. The miss didn't give Butler that much time to get a shot off, but it sure was close.
Coach K and the Blue Devils had an amazing season and deserve the accolades, but I think this is a testament to the heart and character of the Butler Bulldogs. They were the story of the tournament.