It was a championship game worthy of the stakes. The defense was tough and physical, and the game was low-scoring without seeming sloppy offensively. As discussed here in yesterday's post, Duke cooled off considerably from behind the arc, and Butler was able to get themselves in position to win. In the end, the biggest difference in a game that came down to a single bucket was that the Blue Devils were able to convert a significantly higher percentage from the floor (44-35). It was due primarily to driving layups and put-backs, the kind of easy baskets that are gold in a game this tight. It was enough to negate narrow Butler edges from the line and on treys.
The combination that brought it home for Duke was a familiar one. Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler did the bulk of the scoring--47 of the team's 61 points, while the big fella, Brian Zoubek
hit the boards hard. He had 10 rebounds, including the one that all but secured the championship, off of Gordon Hayward's miss with 3.6 seconds left. The Notebook has stressed Zoubek's importance so much throughout the season, because the emergence of the Z-Man was the team's X-factor. As good as the Triple S combo is, Duke's had great players like that over the past few years. But they haven't had anyone who could really bang down low and it always caught up to them. Once they found one, they got back on top.
Defensively it was a very good night for Coach K's team, as the shooting percentage disparity indicates. But we do have to note that Butler hurt themselves inside by missing a lot of makeable shots, especially early. Matt Howard and Hayward combined to shoot 5-of-19. The last two shots--the fadeaway with 3.6 seconds left and the desperation toss that almost went in will be most remembered, but the first was very well-defended and the
latter would've been a fluke. If there's anything Butler will regret, it's some of the missed gimmes early in the game.
Overall, a great ending to a great tournament. This arm of the Notebook Family isn't quite done yet. The possible expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams next year was a hot topic throughout March. I held my tounge, because the Notebook's policy is to avoid commenting on structural changes to a sport while the season is still going on. But tomorrow we'll usher in the offseason with some thoughts on the proposed expansion.