UConn shuts down Butler, 53-41

Connecticut Huskies guard Kemba Walker celebrates after the Connecticut Huskies defeated the Butler Bulldogs during their men’s final NCAA Final Four college basketball game in Houston, Texas, April 4, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Connecticut shot 34.5% from the field, including 1-of-11 from long range, and turned the ball over five more times than Butler and still won the game by 12 points.

More than anything else, the story tonight was Butler’s shooting. They made just 12-of-64 (19%) from the field, and only 3-of-31 (10%) from two-point range thanks in part to UConn’s 10 blocked shots.

Greg Anthony called it the worst performance he’s ever seen in a championship game and that’s half true. It was a terrible shooting performance, but the Bulldogs played pretty great defense, holding UConn to just 53 points on 35% shooting. So for that they should be commended.

Regarding the shooting, UConn contested a lot of shots, but the Bulldogs missed some open looks as well. If anything, tonight’s game is yet another argument that the Final Four should take place in a basketball arena instead of in a football stadium. There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal today about how the shooting in domes decreases by an average of 4%. It’s simply tough to shoot in such a big building because there isn’t anything behind the basket to help give the shooter a frame of reference.

I’m not going to go into specifics about player statlines because they’re all pretty ugly (on both sides), but the play of UConn’s Alex Oriakhi (5-of-6 from the field, 11 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks) and Jeremy Lamb (12 second-half points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block) were collectively the difference in the game. Oriakhi gave Matt Howard and Andrew Smith fits around the basket and Lamb’s scoring broke the game open in the second half.

Congratulations to Jim Calhoun and UConn on a great year. It’s amazing to think that we have a national champion who didn’t even finish in the TOP HALF of its conference. (UConn was 9th out of 16 teams in the Big East.) Since they didn’t bother to mention it during the telecast, let’s not forget that Calhoun will be suspended for the first three games of the Big East schedule next season for recruiting violations that happened under his watch. For his part, Calhoun has fought the NCAA’s ruling every step of the way.

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Championship Game Preview

Connecticut Huskies’ Kemba Walker reacts after making a basket against the Kentucky Wildcats during their semi-final NCAA Final Four college basketball game in Houston, Texas, April 2, 2011. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Connecticut vs. Butler…who would have thunk it?

Roughly 50% of the bracket-playing population had the Bulldogs losing their first round game against Old Dominion, so for Butler to still be alive is nothing short of shocking. Sure, they made the title game last year, but they lost their best player (Gordon Hayward) to the NBA and at one point during they season, they were 14-9 and coming off a three-game losing streak to UW-Milwaukee, Valparaiso and Youngstown St. Needless to say, what Brad Stevens and Co. have done over the past two years (10-1 in the tournament, 11-0 against the spread) is nothing short of amazing, especially for a mid-major.

On the flip side, it isn’t mind-blowing that UConn made the title game, especially with the way Kemba Walker played in five straight games in the Big East Championship. Freshman Jeremy Lamb has been a solid sidekick, and the Huskies proved on Saturday night that they can play some lockdown defense as they held Kentucky to just 34% shooting from the field. They’re more athletic than the Bulldogs and they will have the best player on the court in Walker.

But there is something about Butler that gives them the edge in a tight game. In many ways, the team has taken on the personality of the unflappable Stevens, so as long as they can keep the game close, there’s a good chance that they’ll figure out a way to pull out a win. How do they do it? Matt Howard outworks opposing big men while shotmaker Shelvin Mack is something of a poor man’s Walker. When the Bulldogs need a bucket, he usually delivers.

This is probably going to be another white-knuckle finish, and if that’s the case, I’m going with my heart and taking the Bulldogs. Considering I picked VCU and Kentucky in Saturday’s game, I’m probably putting the hex on the underdogs.

Digging into the Calhoun/Calipari rivalry

Connecticut Huskies head coach Jim Calhoun gestures as his team plays the San Diego Aztecs during their NCAA West Regional college basketball game in Anaheim, California March 24, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

ESPN’s Andy Katz outlines what has been something of a heated rivalry between Jim Calhoun and John Calipari.

The perceived breaking point between the two schools — and coaches — occurred during the recruitment of Hartford-area center Marcus Camby in 1993.

“I was responsible for recruiting Marcus and I did everything I possibly could,” Dickenman said. “I tried and I tried, and the bottom line is I was talking to a wall. We weren’t going to get him. We did have him on a visit with Kirk King and Ray Allen. We had this feeling that we weren’t in it and we never really were.”

“At the time John was an up-and-comer, a hot-shot name, and Jim doesn’t like to lose to anyone,” Dickenman said. “John has tremendous charisma and he’s a little brash. Jim had taken some things personal, but I don’t think they were necessarily directed at Jim.

Calhoun doesn’t like to lose at all, but he really doesn’t like to lose to hot-shot coaches like Calipari, so there will be a little extra juice to the UConn/Kentucky tilt on Saturday night.

Your quick and dirty Final Four preview

Butler Bulldogs head coach Brad Stevens encourages his team playing against the Florida Gators in the second half during their NCAA Southeast Regional college basketball game in New Orleans, March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Butler vs. VCU

Spread: Butler -2.5; Sagarin: Butler -1.45; Pomeroy: Butler 55.3%
Butler is the slight favorite, and if this game comes down to the final few possessions, I have to give the Bulldogs the edge due to their amazing ability (fortune?) to triumph in close games. However, Butler has only won their four tournament games by a total of 13 points, so they have hardly been as dominating as the Rams, who have beaten #1 Kansas, #3 Purdue, #6 Georgetown and #11 USC by an average of 14.8 points. Their lone tight game was against #10 Florida State, which went to overtime.

The key for the Rams has been their lights-out three-point shooting. They have hit 44% of their attempts in the tourney, after shooting just 36% during the season. Will this hot shooting continue in a football stadium against Butler, which very good at defending the three-point line (32.4%)? If the Rams hit 40%+ from long range, they have a chance for a 10- to 15-point win, especially if they use their depth to press, something that has rattled the Bulldogs in this tournament.

My pick: VCU

Kentucky vs. UConn

Spread: UK -2; Sagarin: UK -2.32; Pomeroy: UK 58.4%
After watching UConn play in a tough environment against both SDSU and Arizona, there’s no doubt that the Huskies are mentally tough enough to leave Houston with a title. Kentucky has the more talented rotation, but the key to this game will be how the Wildcats defend Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb. Against both SDSU and Arizona, Walker carried the Huskies early, but at some point in the second half, Lamb stepped up with several big shots to help to put those two games away.

If you go with the “best player on the floor” argument, UConn probably has the edge because of Walker. He’s lightning quick and can usually get a good look at the basket whenever he wants. The Wildcats have more balance, with four players averaging double-digits and two more averaging 7.9 ppg or more. Brandon Knight has hit some clutch shots and UConn hasn’t had to wrangle a guard of his caliber so far in the tournament.

In the end, the Wildcats have the edge. They own the 4th-best Pomeroy rating and look more like a national championship-caliber squad with their elite (#7) offensive efficiency and more than capable defense (#20). That said, if Walker and/or Lamb get hot, this will be a close game.

My pick: Kentucky

It’s a good day to be a college basketball fan

Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski (L) talks with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill head coach Roy Williams prior to the teams’ NCAA basketball game in Durham, North Carolina February 9, 2011. REUTERS/Ellen Ozier (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Check out this lineup of college hoops today (all times ET):

12 PM: #2 Kansas @ #24 Missouri (CBS)
The Jayhawks need a victory in Columbia to win the Big 12 outright. They have a one-game lead over Texas with one game to play and are hoping to secure a #1 seed in the Big 12 Tournament as well. Meanwhile, Missouri is hoping to complete an unbeaten season at home.

2 PM: #7 Notre Dame @ #16 UConn (ESPN)
It’s senior night for the Huskies, who have beaten the Irish seven straight times at Gampel Pavilion. Notre Dame can earn the #1 seed in the Big East tournament with a win today and a Pittsburgh loss to Villanova.

4 PM: #19 Villanova @ #5 Pittsburgh (CBS)
Villanova has faded after a strong start to the season, but could still spoil the Panthers’ bid to be the top seed in the Big East Championship if they’re able to upset Pitt on their home floor. The Panthers need a win to solidify their bid to be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

6 PM: #14 Florida @ #20 Vanderbilt (ESPN)
These two teams went into overtime the first time they met this season and the Gators can clinch the outright SEC title with a win against the Commodores in Nashville.

8 PM: #4 Duke @ #13 North Carolina (CBS)
The ACC regular season championship is on the line as the Blue Devils face the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. In the first meeting at Cameron, UNC had a 16-point lead before Duke came back to win 79-73. Duke is hoping to be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and needs a win tonight to round out its resume.

It’s not often that there are five Top 25 matchups lined up every two hours like there are today. And don’t forget, #10 Wisconsin plays #1 Ohio State at 4 PM (on CBS) on Sunday.

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