Tonight is the end of the road. For those of you who, like me, can't stand golf, major league baseball or the NBA playoffs, this is the last bright spot in the sporting world until August, which makes the next four months the longest in my personal sports calendar.
I sure love March/April Madness, but it's like the last oasis before I have to cross the Sahara Desert.
But it isn't quite over yet. For anyone who cares to join me in attempting to overcome "What might have been..." and watch tonight's game intently, without dwelling on how the Cats might have matched up with Duke, feel free to use the comments section of this post as a national championship open game thread.
- East Region
- Midwest Region
- South Region
- West Region
- Second Round (Day 1)
- Second Round (Day 2)
- Sweet Sixteen
- Elite Eight
- Final Four
- Indianapolis, Ind.
The National Championship
No. 1 Duke (34-5) vs. No. 5 Butler (33-4)
April 5 | 8:21 p.m. | Indianapolis
How They Got Here:
No. 1 Duke 78, No. 2 West Virginia 57
No. 5 Butler 52, No. 5 Michigan State 50
Let's get one thing straight: This isn't David vs. Goliath.
It's more like Abel vs. Cain or Esau vs. Jacob.
Butler and Duke are more alike than most would care to admit. Oh, sure, Duke has the more highly touted and recruited players across the board, but that hasn't meant jack until this season. The Blue Devils haven't gone any further in the NCAA Tournament during the three previous years than Butler has — the Sweet Sixteen.
They play similar styles, they defend and rebound similarly, and their coaches both fail to display normal human aging in a way that defies explanation. I won't say the two teams are clones of each other, but they might be fraternal twins.
Besides, for all of Duke's four- and five-star talent, Gordon Hayward will be by far the best pro on the floor tonight.
As far as individual match-ups, Duke probably should be favored. The Devils are way more consistent in their outside shooting, and for at least the duration of this tournament, have been offensively rebounding out of their minds — thanks mostly to the senior metamorphosis of Brian Zoubek from bench player to invaluable starter.
But if I've learned one thing in the last month, it's never to underestimate Butler's scrappiness and resolve. The Bulldogs just find ways to win, even if it never looks impressive. I wouldn't bet on them to win, but I sure as hell won't count them out, either.
As usual, figuring out who will win is simple. If Butler can control the tempo and keep the 3s in check, and thus hold Duke to 60 or fewer points, they'll probably be able to win. If Duke can push the pace and get the game into the 70s or higher, Mike Krzyzewski will hoist his second trophy this decade.
Oh, and here's a little trivia for you: With a win tonight, Butler would become the first No. 5 seed ever to win a national championship.
GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: Duke 66, Butler 59
Sagarin: Duke 65, Butler 60