Wednesday, April 28, 2010
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Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Room Service: Devils Deny Butler, 61-59
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)
Big East (8-8)
Big Ten (9-5)
Big 12 (9-5)
Mountain West (2-4)
West Coast (3-2)
Western Athletic (0-2)
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
Sunday, April 04, 2010
Devils and Dogs to Meet in NCAA Final
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.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
NCAA Cranked Up: Four for the Final
Butler Bulldogs (32-4) vs.
Michigan State Spartans (28-8)
6:07 pm EDT
Butler enters the Final Four for the very first time in school history, but does so with a flourish, sporting not only the best record of all participants, but also the longest winning streak in the nation, a solid 24 straight.
The Bulldogs will have the advantage of playing just 7 miles from their campus, in what amounts to a short home tournament. They will benefit from having many of their fans n hand, though that could also work as a distraction leading up to the Saturday games and possibly a final game showdown for all the marbles.
Butler is led by Gordon Hayward, the Horizon League Player of the Year, who brings size and talent to the front court. In the big games, Hayward has stepped up. He scored 17 points with 5 rebounds against Syracuse and had 22 and 9 in the reginal final win over Kansas State. A lean, 6'9" forward, he's a nightmare to defend.
Shelvin Mack is the scoring guard for the Bulldogs. He too has been on his game in the tournament. Ouside of his 1-for-10 3-point effort against Syracuse, Mack has nailed 12 of 18 from beyond the arc. His scoring will be essential, but Butler wins with defense, mostly in the form of a 2-1-2 zone.
The Spartans have become accustomed to playing under big lights in big pressure games, so Tom Izzo will have his players ready for action. Michigan State has been hobbled by injury, most notably the loss of point guard Kalin Lucas, who is out for the duration of the tourney but has been admirably replaced by Korie Lucious, who staved off elimination with a last-second three-pointer to shock Maryland in the regional semi-final.
Forwards Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers will be called upon again to carry the scoring load for the Spartans, while Delvon Roe and Draymond Green will do the dirty work under the rim. Summers has carried the team through the tournament, all of which have been close calls for the Spartans. He's scoring at a 20 points per game clip, nearly double his seasonal average. Michigan State comes with grit and determination, but the Bulldogs display much the same attitude. This game will be a war. Butler is a slim, 1 1/2 point favorite.
West Virginia Mountaineers (31-6) vs.
Duke Blue Devils (33-5)
8:47 pm EDT
After the Butler - Michigan St. melange, this game will look like the Varsity kids following the JV game onto the floor. While the previous two teams will be engaged in what may look, at times, like a cage fight, the two more polished squads out of the Big East and ACC bring more finesse and subtlety in their games, especially the Blue Devils.
It's not likely that West Virginia will hold Duke's regular season leading scorer, Kyle Singler, to the 5 points he had in his prior game. Expect Singler to take his shots from the perimeter (he's a 38% three-point shooter) and also bang away inside, though the Mountaineers inside presence should slow him down a little.
Duke's other two top scorers - Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith - both have been on the money during the past two games of the tourney. Smith had a career-high 29 points in the win over Baylor which got Duke on its way to Indianapolis. Scheyer scored 18 against Purdue and poured in 20 against Baylor, hitting 5 3-pointers in the process.
Of the many edges Duke has in this game, their front court size and free throw shooting should serve them well. Brian Zoubek goes 7'1", starter Lance Thomas stands 6'8" and the two Plumlees - Miles and Mason - each go 6'10" and should see plenty of floor time. At the foul line, Scheyer hits at an 88% clip; Singler, 79%, Smith, 78%, and all three get there with stunning regularity.
West Virginia appears to have destiny on their side. Coach Bob Huggins, who played for the Mountaineers from 1975-77, is in his third year with the school, and has developed a great rapport with his players, many of whom he personally recruited. The go-to guy is slick DaSean Butler, who has made a case for himself as tournament MOP. After seeing limited action - and just 9 points - in the opening round win over Morgan St., he put up 28, 14 and 18 points in wins over Missouri, Washington and Kentucky, nabbing 27 rebounds along the way. Butler, a senior, is the floor leader and, if the game comes down to one shot, he will be the one taking it.
Up front, the Mountaineers can keep fresh, tall bodies flowing into the game. Deniz Kilicli, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones can all rebound and defend, though they, like most of the West Virginia squad, are not particularly deadly on the perimeter. Point guard Joe Mazzula played a pivotal role in the win over Kentucky and he'll need to step it up again. The condition of Darryl "Truck" Bryant, who was the regular point guard until suffering a broken bone in his foot, is still up in the air. He hasn't practiced as of Tuesday, though it was announced that he would play against Duke. Having him back would be a boost.
In order to win this game, West Virginia will have to challenge Duke's outside shooters and maintain a solid presence inside, easier said than done. The match-ups favor Duke in many regards and the Mountainers are not a good free throw shooting team. Of the starters, Butler is the leader, at 78%. Not surprisingly, Duke is favored by 3 points.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Duke's Nolan Hits Career High 29 in Win over Baylor
The Duke Blue Devils advanced out of the South region to the NCAA tourney Final Four with a sharp, 78-71, win on Sunday. The win enabled Duke's first trip to college hoops Nirvana - the Final Four - since 2004, when the Blue Devils lost to UConn, 79-78 in the semi-final.
Propelling the Blue Devils past Baylor was the exceptional play of junior guard Nolan Smith, who posted a career-high 29 points on a night that Kyle Singler - Duke's scoring leader - was held to an uncharacteristic 5 points. Smith hit shots from everywhere, going 9-for-17, including 4 three-pointers. He was also near-perfect from the foul line, cashing 7 of 8 freebies.
Duke faces West Virginia in a semi-final game on Saturday, April 3 in Indianapolis.
NCAA Conference Scoreboard (through games of March 28)
Big East (8-7)
Big Ten (9-4)
Big 12 (9-5)
Mountain West (2-4)
West Coast (3-2)
Western Athletic (0-2)
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Final Four Finished: Duke - West Virginia; Butler - Michigan St.
5 Michigan St. 70
6 Tennessee 69
Michigan State advanced to the Final Four by the slimmest of margins over a very credible Tennessee squad. Neither team was ever able to establish any kind of working lead, and the game was tied on numerous occasions as the lead see-sawed back andd forth. Once again, Durrell Summers came up with a big effort, scoring a game-high 22 points on 8 of 10 shooting, including 4 of 6 3-pointers.
The Volunteers put forth a valiant effort, but the Spartans would not be denied their 6th trip to the Final Four in the past 12 years and second in a row. Michigan State lost last season to North Carolina in the final. The Tar Heels did not even make it into the tournament field this year.
Michigan State will face Butler in one of two semi-final games on Saturday, April 3rd in Indianapolis.
1 Duke 78
3 Baylor 71
Duke was put to the test by an aggressive Baylor defense which held the Blue Devils' top scorer, Kyle Singler, to just 5 points, all from the foul line. It was the first time in Singler's three-years at Duke that he was held without a field goal.
Singler's teammates picked up the slack, however, and used offensive rebounds and second-chance scores to pull away late in the second half after Baylor had forged a 35-32 lead at the half. Nolan Smith was sensational with a career and game-high 29 points. Smith canned 9 of 17 shots, including 4 of 6 threes, and 7 of 8 from the free throw line.
Jon Scheyer added 20 points for the Blue Devils, who advance out of the South region to the Final Four to face the champions of the Big East tourney and NCAA tourney East region, West Virginia, on Saturday, April 3.
Hayward Earns Saturday's Player of the Day
The Butler Bulldogs advanced to the Final Four for the first time in school history with a 63-56 win over the #2 seed, Kansas State, but their emergence from the West region was by no means a fluke.
The Bulldogs knocked off four good teams to reach the pinnacle of college basketball. After first and second round wins over UTEP and Murray State - who took the Bulldogs to the limit - Butler downed Syracuse, the region's top seed. Through those first four rounds, Horizon League Player of the Year Gordon Hayward has provided backbone, scoring and rebounding, but his effort against the Wildcats on Saturday was his best game of the tournament, registering game-highs with 22 points and 9 boards.
Hayward and the Bulldogs are a dead-serious contender to take the whole shooting match, especially with the decimated brackets which by Sunday afternoon will have wiped out 5/6ths of the top 12 seeds, including either all of the 1s or all of the 3s, pending the outcome of the South region final between #1 Duke and #3 Baylor. Butler will get a bit of a break, playing the winner of the Midwest region, either #6 Tennessee or #5 Michigan State, though either team will give the Bulldogs a good game.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Shock and Disbelief: Bulldogs, Mountaineers Skin 'Cats
5 Butler 63
2 Kansas St. 56
The Butler Bulldogs stunned the Kansas St. Wildcats and advanced to the Final Four out of the West region, employing a scrambling defense and timely offense spearheaded by Horizon League Player of the Year, Gordon Hayward, who had game highs in scoring and rebounding with 22 points and 9 rebounds. The Bulldogs shut down the wildcat guards, Jacob Pullen and denis Clemente, holding the backcourt duo to a combined 32 points. Pullen was 4-for-13, Clemente, 7-for-17.
Butler took an early lead and held on throughout, though the wildcats did take a brief one-point lead midway through the second half, but the Bulldogs beat Kansas St. in most of the important categories: shooting percentage, 3-point shooting, free throws and rebounds. Butler, the #5 seed, knocked off both the #1 seed, Syracuse, and now the #2 seed in the region.
2 West Virginia 73
1 Kentucky 66
In an even more shocking development, West Virginia derailed John Wall and the Kentucky express, beating the Wildcats with a combination of first-half three-point shooting and second-half defense and canniness. The Mountaineers, not known for long-range shooting prowess, hit 8 3-pointers in the first half and took a 28-26 lead into intermission.
In the second half, West Virginia worked the ball inside more often and stymied the Wildcats with their 1-3-1 zone defense. Frustrated by their inaccuracy from long range, Kentucky didn't hit a shot from beyond the arc until the game was in its final minutes, finishing an embarrassing 4-for-32 on 3-point tries. Kentucky also damaged its own chances, connecting on just 16 of 29 free throw attempts. The Mountaineers, meanwhile, were 10-for-23 from 3-point land and 23 of 34 at the charity stripe.
As usual, Da'Sean Butler led his team in scoring with 18 points, but the performance of the night came from Joe Mazzulla, who posted a career-high 17 points, even though he missed most of the final six minutes due to foul trouble and then, after a brief return, fouling out. Mazzulla handled the ball and directed the offense most of the night, which led to, at one point, a 16-point edge. Kentucky tried to crawl back into it late, but did not have the shots nor the time to make a significant run.
In a tournament that has been chock-full of upsets and surprises, these two are remarkable, as is what's left of the high seeded teams. At this juncture, with just 6 teams left in the tourney, three #1s, #2s and #3s have already been eliminated. After tomorrow's games, either all of the 1s or 3s will be gone, as the South region final features #1 Duke vs. #3 Baylor. The Midwest, already decimated by losses to #1 Kansas, #2 Ohio State and #3 Georgetown, features a 6-5 match-up between Tennessee and Michigan State.
Regardless of tomorrow's results, this years Final Four will consist of just 2 of the top 12 seeds, pretty much an unprecedented event and certain to have blown up all the bracket pools around the country.
Another piece of history: West Virginia has reached the Final Four for just the second time in school history. The last time was in 1959 when California defeated West Virginia 71-70, though basketball legend Jerry West just missed a desperation heave from half court that would have won the game. Despite the loss, West was named tournament MVP. Today, 51 years later, West's son, Jonny West, plays for the Mountaineers.
Elite Eight Match-up Analysis; Summers POTD
SATURDAY, March 27
4:30 pm EDT: 5 Butler (31-4) vs. 2 Kansas St. (29-7)
EnergySolutions Arena (Salt Lake City, UT)
Key Players: Butler: Gordon Hayward (15.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg); Shelvin Mack (14.1 ppg, 3.1 apg); Kansas St.: Jacob Pullen (19.5 ppg); Denis Clemente (15.5 ppg)
Tournament Win Margin: Butler: 8; Kansas St. 12.3
Instant Analysis: Butler needs to stay in zone defense, work ball inside to Hayward and Howard; K-State's Pullen and Clemente best back-court in nation. K-State defense underrated.
7:00 pm EDT: 2 West Virginia (30-6) vs. 1 Kentucky (35-2)
Carrier Dome (Syracuse, NY)
Key Players: W. Virginia: Da'Sean Butler (17.4 ppg, 3.2 apg); Kevin Jones (13.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg); Kentucky: John Wall (16.6 ppg, 6.6 apg); DeMarcus Cousins (15.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg)
Tournament Win Margin: W. Virginia: 16.3; Kentucky: 25.3
Instant Analysis: Butler has much to do against killer KY defense; Wall and Cousins provide inside-outside game, suporting cast is phenomenal. KY has best record and largest win margin of any team left in tourney.
SUNDAY, March 28
2:20 pm EDT 6 Tennessee (28-8) vs. 5 Michigan St. (27-8)
Edward Jones Dome (St. Louis, MO)
Key Players: Tenn.: Wayne Chism (12.6 ppg, 7.3 pg); Mich. St.: Raymar Morgan (11.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg); Durrell Summers (10.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Tournament Win Margin: Tennessee: 7; Michigan St.: 4
Instant Analysis: Spartans have squeaked by, keeping games close, Summers has stepped up huge in tourney; Chism is do-it-all guy for Vols, but has talent all around him. will be a war on the boards, where Tenn. has advantage.
5:05 pm EDT 3 Baylor (28-7) vs. 1 Duke (32-5)
Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX)
Key Players: Baylor: LaceDarius Dunn (19.5 ppg); Ekpe Udoh (13.8 ppg, 9.7 rpg); Duke: Kyle Singler (18.1 ppg); Jon Scheyer (17.9 ppg); Nolan Smith (17.1 ppg)
Tournament Win Margin: Baylor: 16.6; Duke: 19
Instant Analysis: Duke's big three - Singler, Scheyer, Smith - have to continue to carry the load and are capable; Coach K's influence obvious; Baylor has nice inside-outside game, very rugged on the boards and in lane, could dominate. Dunn is the wild card. If he can score, Baylor has great opportunity.
Player of the Day, for Friday, March 26, 2010
Michigan State's Durrell Summers played huge in the Spartans' 59-52 win over Northern Iowa, advancing to the Elite Eight.
Often overlooked, Summers was the game's high-scorer and rebounder with 19 points and 7 boards. He's played a major role in all three Spartan wins in the tourney.