Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith couldn't have played much better against West Virginia, despite Smith's halftime foul trouble. The two combined for 42 points (making 9-of-18 three-pointers) and 12 assists without committing a turnover. It's hard to expect a second flawless performance against Butler's stifling half-court defense, but just how far off that level of performance the pair are Monday night may be the biggest indicator of Butler's chances to win. Duke's offense is much less dynamic without Smith on the floor (or when he's shackled). If Scheyer and/or Smith get into foul trouble, Duke doesn't have much behind them.
Shelvin Mack (AP)
Shelvin Mack was shelved for much of the second half Saturday with leg cramps, but he is expected to be fine for the title game. That's crucial, as he was a very viable second scoring option against Michigan State before his legs gave out, and he'll need to be an even bigger factor against Duke. Ronald Nored made two huge free throws in the final seconds to help cement the semifinal win, but isn't much of an offensive option. His biggest contribution may be chasing Smith (or Scheyer) into a bad/sloppy game, which could help drag the contest down into the Butler's comfort zone and/or lead to an occasional run-out to help Butler pick up some cheap points.
Kyle Singler (John W. McDonough/SI)
It's bad enough dealing with Duke's four-headed interior game, but when Kyle Singler's shooting like he did against West Virginia, Duke is almost impossible to stop. Butler is an extremely strong defensive rebounding team, but the Bulldogs will be sorely tested by the Blue Devils in this area, especially if Matt Howard isn't available. Presumed replacement Avery Jukes is not the same kind of rugged inside player. Brian Zoubek showed how much he's developed in his time at Duke against West Virginia, showing controlled aggression and good instincts with and without the ball. If he and Lance Thomas regularly get to the offensive glass, it will be lights out for the Bulldogs.
Gordon Hayward (Boyd Ivey/Icon SMI)
Matt Howard had a rough time against Michigan State inside (in the short, foul-plagued minutes he was on the floor). Now he's a game-time decision with a head injury. If Butler doesn't have Howard available, it will be awfully difficult to find enough offensive balance. If Howard does play, he may have better luck with his array of below-the-rim post moves against a Duke frontcourt that is bigger than Michigan State's but not as athletic overall. Where Butler could thrive, though, is with the mismatches created by Gordon Hayward, especially on the perimeter. He'll either force Lance Thomas or one of the Plumlees away from the basket, or if covered by Kyle Singler, create a favorable situation for smallish swingman Willie Veasley.
EDGE: DUKE, (incorporating Plumlees off the bench; could be big edge if Howard's limited)
Nolan Smith and Andre Dawkins (AP)
It's unfair to double-count, so we'll discount the effect of Mason and Miles Plumlee here. Beyond them, the bench is basically freshman Andre Dawkins, who supplies some extra three-point shooting, as needed. The tempo of this game (and the related smaller chance of foul trouble) shouldn't be such that the Blue Devils need to go particularly deep anyway.
Avery Jukes and Shawn Vanzant (AP)
Shawn Vanzant made the play of the Michigan State game with a tough offensive rebound and dish back to Hayward for Butler's only field goal in the game's final 12 minutes. Avery Jukes may be elevated into the starting lineup; if not, he provides some athleticism and shooting behind Howard. Zach Hahn didn't do much against Michigan State, but if Butler makes this into a three-point shooting contest, he could play a larger role.
SLIGHT EDGE: BUTLER (weakened if Dukes starts)
Mike Krzyzewski (Bill Frakes/SI)
Been here, done it multiple times (and with the experience of multiple losses in this spot, too). Mike Krzyzewski has his team playing its best basketball of the season heading into the title game and is on the short list of coaches nationally that you'd assume will find a chink or two in Butler's defensive armor on a short turnaround.
Brad Stevens (John Biever/SI)
Brad Stevens has done a masterful job maintaining an even keel and his team reflects his preternatural cool. His Bulldogs play incredibly impressive defense, but he's going to have to push every button correctly to wring enough points from his team to win Monday night.
Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek (Getty Images)
Upperclassmen-heavy Duke is used to playing in big games and being the favorite (and the villain), so the pressure of being expected to win the national title in their opponents' backyard shouldn't faze the Blue Devils.
Ronald Nored (John W. McDonough/SI)
Butler was playing with house money on Saturday, but now that the national title is at stake, it's harder to spin the "just happy to be here" angle, whether the team felt that way or not. Mix in some health concerns and the de facto home-court edge may not be enough to offset Duke's advantages.
There's no way to sugarcoat this: Duke, in its current form, is a bad matchup for Butler. The Blue Devils' combination of extreme size, especially in the frontcourt (and particularly if Howard is limited or can't play), strong three-point shooting and stingy three-point defense means the Bulldogs will have to find a plan that includes more than Butler Plays. If Butler is to win, the Bulldogs will need to be much better offensively than they were on Saturday. As good as Butler's defense is, there's no way it is holding this Duke team to 0.85 points per possession, like the Bulldogs did to Michigan State. The offense will start with Hayward. He will need to have a strong shooting night while creating opportunities for others on switches. He'll also need to hold his own on the defensive glass, without fouling. If Mack is healthy, his explosiveness should yield benefits, too. The best plan of attack may be similar to Saturday's second half, when the Bulldogs concentrated on getting the ball inside or driving into the paint and getting to the free-throw line. If they can do that and get Nolan Smith in foul trouble, all the better. If Howard is unavailable or limited, it will be interesting to see what a true small-ball lineup can do in short bursts (though Butler would become almost exclusively a perimeter-oriented team against a great perimeter defense). While Butler will have to make a high number of threes to win, that can't be the only successful piece of the Bulldogs' offense. They'll have to attack the rim off the dribble and hope their quickness offsets Duke's size advantage.
This isn't a bold pick, but it's a clear one. There's a reason the initial line on the game of Duke -6 immediately went to -7.5 overnight. Butler is a fine team, but Duke is its statistical equal (or better) defensively and is way better, with more diverse options, offensively. The Blue Devils have a size and shooting combination that will be difficult for the Bulldogs to handle for 40 minutes. I'd like to see Butler win (for the story, not because of any anti-Duke feelings), but it looks unlikely.
DUKE 65, BUTLER 53
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