The night we have all been waiting for is finally upon us.
The 2011 Men’s Basketball National Championship game is less than four hours away from tip-off and the anticipation is building.
The field of 68 has been dwindled down to two teams, the Connecticut Huskies and the Butler Bulldogs. The legacy of the Huskies and Bulldogs will be determined by one 40-minute game in Houston, Texas.
At the start of the year, if you would have told me UConn and Butler would play for a National Championship in April, I probably would have thought you were insane. Heck, if you would have told me that on Selection Sunday when the brackets were released, I still would have thought you were insane.
Apparently, there are numerous people out there that I would have deemed “insane.” The final of UConn-Butler was picked by 881 brackets out of a possible 5.9 million brackets submitted to ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.
To all 881 brackets that predicted a UConn-Butler final, I give you permission to pat yourselves on the back, but now on to the stuff that matters.
The 2011 National Championship game is your classic “Cinderella-Powerhouse” matchup that we all hope to see in college football some day. Here are three key match-ups that will influence the outcome of the game:
- Jim Calhoun vs Brad Stevens
- Kemba Walker vs Ronald Nored
- Shabazz Napier vs Shelvin Mack
Calhoun is your veteran coach who has been there, done that. Stevens is the youngest coach in NCAA history to take two teams to the Final Four. Both these coaches are extremely talented and respected nationwide. Basketball is a game of two halves, and the half-time adjustments made by Calhoun and Stevens could be crucial to their team’s success.
Kemba Walker is arguably the best scorer in the country. Ronald Nored is arguably the best on-ball defender in the country. Walker went to UConn to play for Calhoun and to win a National Championship. Nored turned down a scholarship to Harvard because he “wanted to be part of something special.” The two will go head-to-head tonight in what will be a very physical matchup.
Not many people know who Shabazz Napier or Shelvin Mack are, but they will likely be glued to each other tonight. Napier is UConn’s best perimeter defender and Shelvin Mack is Butler’s best perimeter shooter. In two games against Kentucky this year, Napier has shutdown Brandon Knight, one of the best freshman in the country. Mack is one of Butler’s most consistent scorers and has been exceptional throughout the tournament.
Both UConn and Butler have had incredible rides to the National Championship game, but the road ends here for one of them.
Unfortunately for UConn fans, Kemba Walker’s magic runs out one game short. In the 2011 tournament, Walker has played 384 out of a possible 405 minutes including every minute of the last three games. Walker is exhausted, evident by his 5-16 shooting against Kentucky on Saturday night.
Butler is one of the most physical and efficient teams on both sides of the ball. Many people under-estimate the toll physical play takes on an opponent. It wears you down, physically and mentally. After carrying his team nearly the entire tournament, Walker can’t take the final step.
Butler will capitalize on their second chance and finish the Cinderella story. I’ll take the team with the real dog mascot, Blue II, to come out on top 65-61.