as they beat Butler 53-41
ANATOMY OF A CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
AS CONNECTICUT BOPS CAN'T-SHOOT-STRAIGHT BUTLER 53-41
PLUS WHAT LIES AHEAD IN THE 2011-12 COLLEGE HOOPS SEASON
Okay, so you can be forgiven for closing your eyes for much of Monday night's NCAA Tournament Championship Game: Connecticut's ugly-as-sin 53-41 win against 3-point underdog Butler no doubt set the College Basketball world back about 60 or 70 years but it's not as if the Huskies will be giving back the title trophy anytime soon, you know!
Jim Calhoun – the grizzled and often grumpy 68-year-old head coach of this very special UConn team -- called this win “may be the happiest moment of my life” and who could blame ‘em?
After all, Connecticut (32-9) had been picked to finish 10th in the mighty 16-team Big East Conference (they finished ninth and then famously won that mini-tourney at Madison Square Garden with five wins in five calendar days) and then rolled through this NCAA Tournament for the program's third national title in the past 13 seasons (see 1999 and 2004, as well) and somehow managed to snag the trophy even though mega-star guard Kemba Walker shot a horrific 5-of-19 from the floor en route to a less-than-average 16-point performance.
Heck, even when this UConn team didn't play up to its usual standards in this year's “Big Dance” it still found a way to prevail while keeping opponents frustrated to bits on the offensive end of the floor. Take this latest win on the first Monday night in April: No matter how you slice this one it will always come back to the fact that Butler (28-10) shot 18.8 percent from the field (that's 12-of-64, folks) and how about the fact the Bulldogs finished 3-of-31 on conventional two-point basket tries … that's no typo!
Butler missed in-the-paint gimmes, an array of short jumpers from the wings and the corners and also wound up a lousy 9-of-33 from beyond the three-point arc (that's 27.3 percent) and maybe – just maybe – it was poetic justice that a Bulldogs team that shot poorly throughout this tourney flopped face-first in this biggest game of them all as F Matt Howard and G Shelvin Mack combined to drain a measly 5-of-28 shots from the field and it's safe to say that the worst-ever shooting performance by a team in an NCAA Tournament Championship Game might also go down as one of the worst-ever title tilts in recent memory … and what a change from last year when Butler's half-court shot attempt nearly kayoed Duke in one of the most thrilling title games in the sport's rich history.
More to say about the Connecticut national championship in just a moment but first this key reminder:
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NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES –
THE LAST 10 TITLE TILTS
|2011||UConn -3 Butler||53-41|
|2010||Duke - 7 Butler||61-59|
|2009||North Carolina - 7.5 Michigan State||89-72|
|2008||Kansas + 2 Memphis||75-68 (OT)|
|2007||Florida - 4 Ohio State||84-75|
|2006||Florida - 1 UCLA||73-57|
|2005||North Carolina - 2 Illinois||75-70|
|2004||Connecticut - 5 Georgia Tech||82-73|
|2003||Syracuse + 5.5 Kansas||81-78|
|2002||Maryland - 7.5 Indiana||64-52|
|2001||Duke - 4 Arizona||82-72|
Note that Betting Favorites now have covered 8 of the last 11 NCAA Championship Games and also note that the Big East owns three of the last nine titles while the ACC (four championships the past 10 years) and the SEC (a pair of Florida titles since 2006) also own multiple crowns the past 10 seasons.
NCAA TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Reliant Stadium – Houston, TX
#3 CONNECTICUT 53, #8 BUTLER 41 –
Call it grunt work, if you will. All the Connecticut Huskies know is that battening down the hatches on defense – and also getting more than a little help from a Butler team that proved to be the gang that couldn't shoot straight – was the key to success on this night as a 22-3 run early on in the second half proved to be the real knockout punch in a game that sorely lacked for drama in the final few minutes.
In a tourney in which Butler won games by 2 points against Old Dominion, 1 point versus Pittsburgh, 7 points against Wisconsin, 3 points (in overtime) versus Florida and 8 points against Virginia Commonwealth, the Bulldogs weren't even close late as that aforementioned 18.8 percent FG shooting performance overwhelmed all the other key stats on this night but consider the following:
Our Jim Sez NCAA Tournament Championship Preview on Monday more-than-suggested that Butler had to hold its own on the glass – and especially not allow UConn a batch of offensive rebounds here – and the Huskies' overall length and athleticism truly crushed the Horizon League guys here: Connecticut snagged 15 offensive boards in all (note that 10 of ‘em occurred in the first half) and out-rebounded Butler overall 51-to-40 with unsung star F/C Alex Oriakhi gobbling up a game-high 11 boards while the UConn bench contributed 8 offensive rebs – now that deserves a wow!
On the flip side, Butler only committed six turnovers in the game but it sure seemed that Brad Stevens' club rushed things on the offensive end – once some of the easier shots failed to go down the Bulldogs began pressing and making several in-close shot attempts even more difficult than they needed to be (especially Howard and do-nothing C Andrew Smith who shot just 2-of-9 from thee field and scored just 5 points. Throw into the mix the fact that Butler tried way too hard to hit the perfect three-point shot once it got down 7-to-10 points late and that was a miserable strategy.
Connecticut received zero first-half points from star frosh G Jeremy Lamb (played 11 first-half minutes and had committed a pair of fouls) but Calhoun deftly got Lamb into the offensive swing of things right out of the second-half starting gate – remember he ran a curl play for him and Lamb was fouled and hit two free throws to get him jump-started and soon afterwards drained a key triple – plus Walker connected on a couple of whirling dervish shots to keep Butler at bay and the Bulldogs never did get closer than 8 points down the stretch.
Did a great team win this year's national championship? Not necessarily but no doubt everyone got to see Butler's warts/blemishes up-close and personal and that's too bad considering this was one of the great tourney runs in history … how about three-for-a-quarter next year, Bulldogs?
Here's the now-famous NCAA Tournament game-by-game run to the national championship for the 2010-11 Connecticut Huskies:
|Connecticut - 10 Bucknell||81-52|
|Connecticut - 4 Cincinnati||69-58|
|San Diego State - 2 Connecticut||74-67|
|Connecticut - 3.5 Arizona||65-63|
|Kentucky - 2.5 Connecticut||56-55|
|Connecticut -3 Butler||53-41|
WHAT TO WATCH FOR THE
2011-12 COLLEGE HOOPS SEASON
Nobody needs to tell a hard-core College Basketball fan that two particular aspects can change everything these days:
Early entrants into the NBA Draft and “freshmen of influence” and so it's become a major crap shoot picking-and-choosing who's gonna have a real shot at winning it all in the 2011-12 season – just consider the final couple of lines in a College Basketball publication (we won't “name names”) that proclaimed regarding Connecticut that “missing the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season is possible”. Yikes!
The Huskies were not on anyone's Top 25 radar screen at season's start and lost half their league games this year while going 9-9 in Big East regular-season action but here they are today standing alone with the national championship trophy and now who's to say will be in that position one year from now?
The best guess-estimates here is that both UConn and Butler will sport solid squads even with the expected losses of Walker from the champs and some key pieces on the Butler side but our “whom to watch” teams include UCLA, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan and Ohio State and we'll already go on record to state that so-called mid-majors Wichita State and Duquesne will be major threats to going deep into next year's NCAA Tournament.
Finally, if you're looking for a “bounce-back team” next year – remember that UConn didn't even make it to the NCAAs last season and look how this thing turned out! – than consider a New Mexico team that won a single NIT game this year before getting eliminated by Alabama and also watch for – who else – Michigan State as Tom Izzo's 2011-12 team won't have the distractions that plagued his latest squad.
NOTE: Remember that soon we'll begin our NFL Draft coverage right here in Jim Sez.
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