Monday, April 05, 2010

Butler-Duke -- best matchup since Magic-Bird

There have been a lot of amazing Final Four championship games over the years. But they're not usually SUPPOSED to be amazing.

Everybody thought Georgetown would crush Villanova in '85; 'Nova shot 90 percent in the second half to win. Everybody thought Houston would pound N.C. State in '83, especially after Houston beat Louisville in the semis in one of the most entertaining games in basketball history. Here's a little taste, from the long-lost Bennie Anders:

But in the final, Houston missed its free throws and Lorenzo Charles was standing under the basket and Jim Valvano got to run around looking for someone to hug.

The point is, the hype usually comes after the game, not before. But this year is different. Not only has little Butler made it all the way to the edge of history, it gets its chance against Duke -- one of the half-dozen best college programs, and definitely the most polarizing.

I think this is the most fascinating matchup in the title game since Larry Bird (and Indiana State) vs. Magic Johnson (and Michigan State) in 1979. As it turned out, that wasn't all that good a game -- Michigan State held the lead most of the game and Indiana State could never draw even. Most people think the same thing will happen tonight. Duke's too big, too strong, too experienced. If they shoot like they did Saturday against West Virginia, it's a blowout.

But let me just throw out a couple of things:

1) Going into the tournament, I thought there were five teams better than Duke: Kansas, Ohio State, Kentucky, Syracuse and Kansas State. Butler has already beaten the last two of those to get here.

2) Duke is better at one thing than anybody else in the country: halfcourt offense. But Butler is also better at one thing than anybody else in the country: halfcourt defense. Their nine-man rotation includes five guys 6-3 and under who contest every pass, slap at every dribble, get in the face of every shot. Duke hasn't played any defense as good -- or as annoying -- as Butler.

Plus, as I tweeted last night, Butler has Shawn Vanzant. Any team that has somebody who shares a name (sort of) with the leader of Lynyrd Skynyrd is a team I'm gonna root for.

It's going to happen. Butler 58, Duke 54.