Wednesday, April 28, 2010

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Room Service: Devils Deny Butler, 61-59

Duke Captures 4th National Title with Win for the Ages

Butler's Gordon Hayward let fly from half court with the clock running down to zero. The ball banged of the backboard and the front of the rim, his desperation heave just inches from being the most stunning buzzer beater of all time.

But it was not to be for the Butler Bulldogs, who growled and wrestled all the way to the final seconds of the final game. The Duke Blue Devils would be crowned the NCAA men's basketball champions - for the 4th time in school history - with a thrilling, 61-59, final game win.

All four of Duke's titles have come under the tutelage of coach Mike Krzyzewski, who joins Adolph Rupp and John Wooden as the only coaches ever to win four or more national championships. It was Krzyzewski's first championship since 2001. The others were in 1991 and 1992. Rupp guided the Kentucky Wildcats to four, in 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958. John Wooden, the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins has 10, a record which may never be broken. He took the championship with UCLA 10 times from 1964 to 1975, including an amazing 7 straight seasons from 1967 to 1973.

The game is being hailed as an "instant classic," a title it well deserves. Neither team gave an inch in a contest that saw multiple lead-changes, death-defying drives into the lane, extreme defense and enough drama to make Broadway critics cry. The biggest lead of the game was 6 points, by Duke, and Butler actually had a chance to take the last shot when they recovered the ball when Brian Zoubek inadvertently kicked it out of bounds in one of the many on-the-floor scrambles under the Duke basket.

Butler had the ball in hand with 33 seconds left, down a point, but Hayward's ten-foot baseline floater banged off the rim into Zoubek's hands. He was fouled with 3.3 seconds left, hit the first free throw and purposely missed the second, allowing Hayward to streak to mid-court for the final shot.

Give credit to the Bulldogs, who were painted as the David in the David vs. Goliath presentation, but in reality are a high-quality program from a mid-major conference. The Bulldogs had been ranked in the top 15 all season and entered the final with a 25-game win streak. No opponent during their five tournament wins - including victories over some of the best teams in the country: Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan St. - scored as many as 60 points. Duke broke the mold with the win.

Butler deserves the final ranking of #2, with their 33-5 record and 18-0 Horizon League total. Duke will finish the season #1, with a record of 35-5 (13-3 in the ACC) and a memorable final game victory, the closest since 1989, when Michigan beat Seton Hall, 80-79.

Duke will sport a whole new look next season, as three starters - Zoubek, Jon Scheyer and Lance Thomas - are all seniors. Juniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith could easily jump to the NBA, foregoing their senior seasons.

Butler, on the other hand, may come back ranked #1 preseason. They will lose only Willie Veasley to graduation. Star forward, Gordon Hayward, is only a sophomore, and Matt Howard, who was Horizon League Player of the Year in 2008-09, is a junior. Guards Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are also sophomores, so the Bulldogs very likely will return four of their starting five, and an upgrade at one forward position - where Veasley departs - is likely.

Game highlights can be found in numerous places on the internet: here and here, and can be seen in its entirety when it is added to the NCAA Video Vault, along with a decade's worth of games from the Sweet 16 through tourney finals.

College Hoops Player of the Day for Monday, April 5, 2010

Duke's win would not have been possible with the Herculean effort from Kyle Singler, who played all of the 40 minutes and was the game's high-scorer with 19 points. Singler hit 7 of 13 shots from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range, all of them seeming to come at crucial moments. He went to the foul line just twice, canning both of his free throws, and added 9 boards, 2 assists, a steal and 2 blocked shots.

While Singler's stats exemplify his extraordinary all-around effort, what may be the bast part of his game may be overlooked. He defended Butler's Gordon Hayward man-to-man almost all night, limiting the Bulldog star to a sub-par 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting (0-3 on treys). Hayward notched 8 of those 12 at the foul line, where he was perfect. Singler's defensive effort kept Hayward away from the lane for much of the night, contesting every pass to him and every shot he took.

Singler was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, an award he most decidedly earned.

A few final notes: Ohio state's Evan Turner was handed the Naismith Award as NCAA Player of the Year, at half time of Monday's game. Turner had already notched the AP Player of the Year and similar awards from the Sporting News and US Basketball Writers Association. Turner led Ohio State to a 29-8 record and a share of the Big Ten title. A junior, Turner is expected to forego his senior season and jump to the NBA.

Coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse was named AP coach of the year.

The Big Ten and Big 12 tied for the best record in the tournament at 9-5, though one could make the case that the Horizon League (Butler being the sole entrant) topped all conferences with a 5-1 record.

NCAA Conference Scoreboard FINAL (through games of April 5)

Conference W-L
ACC (7-5)
Atlantic-10 (2-3)
Big East (8-8)
Big Ten (9-5)
Big 12 (9-5)
Conference-USA (0-2)
Mountain West (2-4)
PAC-10 (3-2)
SEC (6-4)
West Coast (3-2)
Western Athletic (0-2)
Other (12-18)

*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Devils and Dogs to Meet in NCAA Final

College Hoops Players of the Day for Saturday, April 3, 2010

5 Butler 52
5 Michigan St. 50

The Butler Bulldogs continue to amaze, now having reached the final plateau of their impressive run through the NCAA tourney field, knocking off the Michigan State Spartans in the first of two semi-final games Saturday.

As has been the case in most of their wins - now at 25 straight - the gritty Bulldogs were led by their best player, Horizon League Player of the Year, Gordon Hayward, who led all scorers with 19 points, while pulling down 9 rebounds. The lanky forward also collected a couple of steals and blocked two shots. And, it was Hayward who grabbed the rebound to finally close out the Spartans on Korie Lucious' purposely-missed free throw at the end of the game.

What makes Hayward's accomplishment in this game so special is that he played almost the wole game without a rest - 39 minutes - and carried the team through the first half as fellow forward Matt Howard was saddled with 2 fouls. He also played most of the second half without the services of Shelvin Mack, who was on the bench, suffering from leg spasms. Somehow, Mack managed to score 14 points. Hayward was 6-for-14 from the field, including 3 of 8 3-point shots.

The Bulldogs face Duke in the final, Monday night.

1 Duke 74
2 W. Virginia 58

When Duke started hitting their 3-pointers midway through the first half, one could almost sense the inevitability of their presence. West Virginia kept allowing open looks, and the Duke bomb squad of Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith kept dropping them in from long range.

From 3-point land, Singler hit 3 of 5, Smith, 4 of 9 and Scheyer, 5 of 9. They were also the game's top three scorers, with 21, 19 and 23 points, respectively, but Jon Scheyer was singlularly outstanding, going 7-for-13 overall as the game's high-scorer, with 6 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals while not committing a turnover.