NCAA Championship Game Preview - It's Butler Vs. Duke For All The Marbles

Hurley Sweeps the Board on Monday
Butler (+7.5) covering against Duke 59-61
Baseball Tigers (+105) over Royals 8-4
Mariners (-125) over A's 5-3


Now, here's a quick look back at the Final Four games:


Let's face it ... ugly doesn't begin to describe this national semifinal win by the one-point favorite Butler Bulldogs who went nearly 11 full minutes in the second half without scoring a field goal and still managed to out-muscle and out-last a Michigan State team that sure didn't play like one of the best four teams in America.

Call it 25 in a row for "America's Team".

The Spartans didn't value the ball much - many of Michigan State's 16 turnovers were unforced errors as Tom Izzo's guys showed how much injured point guard Kalin Lucas was missed here - and the Big 10 team had major problems at the foul line (10-of-18) and from beyond the three-point arc (see 4-of-11 shooting). Throw in the fact that Butler out-rebounded Sparty on the offensive glass 10-to-6 and it's a wonder that State was even in the hunt in the game's waning moments.

Hats off to Butler for surviving-and-advancing despite the fact guard Shelvin Mack (14 points in 26 minutes) spent much of the game on the bench with dehydration issues and center Matt Howard (slight concussion) only logged 15 minutes and scored just one field goal - it was "finest hour" time for forward Gordon Hayward who started out red hot with four quick made hoops and finished with a key foul shot late en route to a 19-point, 9-rebound performance.

Hayward hit three of Butler's five made triples overall (and the Bulldogs missed 16 more trifectas) but it was that nitty-gritty half-court defense that Brad Stevens' club played that really told the tale here along with those M-State miscues and - please - let's not hear any of Izzo's whining about the officiating because his gang wasn't aggressive enough to command more whistles.

Mark this one down under the following hoops category: How to Rip the Heart out of Your Opponent.

Duke's absolute demolition of 2 ½-point underdog West Virginia was straight out of a basketball handbook as the Blue Devils scorched the Mountaineers with an array of triples (see 12-of-25 trifectas) and blitzed the Big East champs with nearly 53 percent shooting from the field (that's 29-of-55) - and that's not all.

Krzyzewski's brilliant game plan absolutely took away West Virginia senior star Da'Sean Butler who registered two field goals in 28 minutes before tearing up his knee in a freaky drive-to-the-hoop play. Heck, at that point it wasn't only the ultra-competitive Butler who was crying from pain/disappointment but it was the whole state of West Virginia feeling zinged by a Duke team that played close to a perfect game.

The Devils wound up with the so-called "Big Three" of Jon Scheyer (23 points) Kyle Singler (21 points) and Nolan Smith combining for 63 of the team's 78 points (or nearly 81 percent of the team's offensive production) and yet talk to anyone on this Blue Devils team and they'll be quick to say that senior center Brian Zoubek (10 rebounds including five of 'em off the offensive glass) was the game's real MVP.

Duke's misses turned into made triples once Zoubek or someone else fired the ball back to an open perimeter shooter and WVU was slow to close on the three-pointers and slow to the glass when the Devils seemingly had more bounce in their step.

Was it West Virginia's worst game in a long while?

No doubt that you're not gonna win many games with 11 assists and 10 turnovers and when your best player is MIA for the game's first 20-plus minutes - conversely, Duke shot it quick and with confidence and the fact of the matter is the Blue Devils could have won by 30-plus points if Coach K didn't call off the dogs late.

Lucas Oil Stadium - Indianapolis, IN

#5 BUTLER (33-4) vs. #1 DUKE (34-5) - approximately 9:20 p.m. ET, CBS

Let's cut to the chase here and it's all about the physical state of the Bulldogs should they have any hope of pulling the title game upset here:

The aforementioned Howard is hurting after banging his head on the court in the win against Michigan State and Stevens told the media that his 6-foot-8 junior would be a "game-time decision."

The news with guard Mack is better: Butler says his dehydration was caused by a case of food poisoning late last week and that he will be 100 percent by game time here - and that's key because the Horizon League champs need all the ball-handlers and all the scorers they can get here against a Duke team that's getting better and better as this tourney rolls on.

If both Howard and Mack play here and contribute their usual numbers (that's about 26 points and 9 rebounds combined), it'll be a big boon for the heavy-duty dogs but Hayward's gonna have to get his points and Butler's going to have to keep Duke's possessions to a minimum. In the Blue Devils' semifinal win against West Virginia, the Dookies took 55 FG attempts - anything above 45 FG tries here is a recipe for disaster for Butler.

KEY FACTORS - Butler's best chance at shocking the hoops world here is staying out of foul trouble early and making sure Duke isn't stepping to the foul line more than 10 or 12 times this game. Expect Duke's Scheyer/Singler/Smith triumvirate to look for the creases in Butler's half-court defense and go to the hoop hard while Zoubek, Lance Thomas and friends crash the boards - second-chance points was a killer against West Virginia and it's a big-time stat to check here.

THE X FACTOR - It's Butler coach Stevens: If he can help navigate his Bulldogs through some rough patches here (a scoreless five minutes or maybe a 10-0 Duke run) and convince his team to milk the shot clock right down to the final ticks, then this one could be a white knuckler in a tourney filled with white knucklers.

TOURNEY SPREAD NOTES - Duke's covered all five of its NCAA Tournament games this year including pointspreads of 24 points against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 6½ points versus California and 8½ points against Purdue and so the Blue Devils have chopped some "tall cotton" already in this tourney. On the flip side, Butler's 4-1 ATS (against the spread) in this year's "Big Dance" as the Bulldogs' lone non-cover came in a 54-52 Round II win against 4 ½-point underdog Murray State. Otherwise, Butler's won outright as pups against 6-point fav Syracuse and 4-point favorites Kansas State before last Saturday downing 1-point pup Michigan State.


The Jim Hurley Network is racing to the finish line of the NCAA Tournament. We had a big 2-0 day on Saturday and ready to do it again on Monday, when we both the side AND total on the Duke-Butler final game! Our basketball experts are studying tapes and examining whether Butler's defense can contain Scheyer and Smith in the Blue Devil backcourt. Our on-scene sources have sent us their thoughts on who's going to maintain their focus in the short turnaround from Saturday. And our Vegas pipeline has clued us in as to whether Duke's blowout win makes them to hot to go against, or too overvalued to take. We'll have it all--the side, the total and a 13-5 payoff at the end! Get it all for $25!

or call the office at 1-800-323-4453









North Carolina

- 7½

Michigan State




+ 2





- 4

Ohio State




- 1




North Carolina

- 2





- 5

Georgia Tech




+ 5½





- 7½





- 4




Michigan State

- 4






Today’s Hot Plays