Championship Game Commentary

Connecticut Huskies’ head coach Jim Calhoun (L) and Butler Bulldogs’ head coach Brad Stevens talk before a television interview about their teams’ meeting in the NCAA Men’s Final Four championship college basketball game in Houston, Texas, April 3, 2011. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Gary Parrish, But no school like Butler or one from a league like the Horizon has won a championship in the modern era, and it’s been more than two decades since a program operating without the advantages provided by the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-10 or SEC has cut nets on a Brad Stevens is a lot like the rest of us. He loves the underdog story. He cheers for Rocky Balboa against Apollo Creed, for the Indians in Major League, for John McClane at Nakatomi Plaza. He’ll turn on the Masters next weekend and hope to spend Sunday watching an unknown challenge for a green jacket. He watches football every season and yells for the Boise States and TCUs. “You bet,” Stevens answered when I asked him to confirm his rooting allegiances. “I have to say, I’m one of the guys screaming at the TV when TCU doesn’t get a spot to play for the national championship.” So it’s not a stretch to suggest Stevens would be pulling for Butler in Monday night’s national championship game even if he were going to be somewhere other than standing on the raised court here at Reliant Stadium coaching the Bulldogs. What’s interesting is that practically everybody with similar tastes — TCU fans, Boise State fans, pretty much everybody except Connecticut fans — will be pulling for Butler, too, because the Bulldogs represent something much larger than themselves. Similar to how Tiger Woods showed young African-Americans that anything is possible on a golf course, and how Anthony Robles showed handicap men that anything is possible on a wrestling mat, Butler is 40 minutes away from showing small schools with small budgets that anything is possible in college athletics, and it doesn’t matter if that’s not really the goal.

Jerry Sullivan, Calhoun argued his innocence with the NCAA committee on infractions, but his pleas went unheeded. UConn will forfeit three men’s scholarships, one in each of the next three seasons. It will serve a three-year probation and have restrictions placed on its contact with recruits. Calhoun will be suspended for the first three Big East games next season. The NCAA didn’t suspend him for this year’s tournament. It’s one thing to punish coaches, another to remove a fond, recognizable character from the $10 billion enterprise. That makes it easy to root against favored UConn. But I’m struggling with the concept. I’ve been covering Calhoun in this event for two decades. He’s charming and quotable, a passionate, stubborn old Irishman from Braintree, Mass., a guy who has beaten cancer three times and keeps coming back strong. Calhoun wears his heart on his sleeve. His love for his sport and his players is never in question. How can you root against a guy who, in the middle of a national news conference, makes a reference to coaching against Canisius and Niagara in the old days at Northeastern?

Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times: The most intriguing matchup Monday figures to be junior Mack going against junior Walker. How nice it is to be having that conversation. What a break we caught that it took Walker three years to develop, under Calhoun, into what he is now. “Coach, you know, he’s given me the chance to be a leader,” Walker said Sunday. Thank goodness Walker is only a tick over 6 feet and was too inconsistent to be a one-and-done… Some might not even recall that Walker has been to another Final Four. Two years ago, he was a freshman on the Huskies team that lost to Michigan State in the national semifinals in Detroit. Walker did not remind anyone of Derrick Rose then because he played 20 minutes and scored one basket while amassing twice as many turnovers (four) as assists. NBA scouts were not drooling when Walker started as a sophomore and led his team to 16 defeats. It took Walker time — something few young players have — to smooth out his edges.

Darren Everson, The Wall Street Journal: Since the NCAA started holding Final Fours exclusively in stadiums in 1997, the shooting at college basketball’s premier event has been sub-optimal—possibly because of the pressure and the quality defenses involved, but also because of the unusual shooting background that players must adjust to. In the 15 Final Fours since then (including this year’s), teams are shooting a mediocre 32% from three-point range and 42% overall. Before then, in the four previous Final Fours that were held in traditional basketball arenas, those figures were 36% and 46%. Granted, comparing shooting percentages today to those years ago is tricky, since teams nowadays are arguably more dogged defensively. But since 2006, three-point shooting at the Final Four has been worse than the corresponding Division I average in five out of six seasons.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Related Posts