words // Nick Engvall
For the second straight year, the Butler Bulldogs fought through rounds of the NCAA Tournament to make their way to the championship game. This year, in Monday’s matchup, they will take on the UCONN Huskies.
Although the Bulldogs literally missed a championship by inches last year, their season had many of those who follow college basketball questioning whether they could make another run. Coming into the tournament they were given a number eight seed spot. Butler defeated Old Dominion, Pitt, Wisconsin, Florida, and this year’s biggest surprise, VCU on Saturday to earn a chance to play for the school’s first national title. Led by 34-year-old, Coach Brad Stevens, who has taken the team from a losing record to arguably one of the best teams in the country in just four years, the Bulldogs will take on a more traditional college basketball powerhouse in the for of UCONN.
The Huskies, led by Hall-of-Famer Jim Calhoun, have experienced winning regularly but haven’t won a national title since 2004. Guards Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb will look to continue an incredible run that already landed UCONN the Big East Tournament title. The road to the championship game for UCONN has had a little less luck than Butler required, with only Arizona and Kentucky pushing the Huskies into the final moments of the game.
Contrasting ages and contrasting styles of play will make this one of the more exciting games in recent tournament history. Butler will inevitably find a way to make it close with hustle plays and rebounds. While for the Huskies, well, between Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb, they have two of the best guards to handle business in the final moments of the game.
UCONN’s Alex Oriakhi has been a rebounding machine in the Nike Zoom Hyperfuse. The Huskies will need at least a double-double from their big man to keep the scrappy Butler team off of the offensive glass.
Matt Howard in the Zoom Hyperfuse. Howard has been the perfect example of Butler basketball. His hustle-until-the-last-second approach has actually saved the Bulldogs on more than one occasion. He’ll need to be big on the boards and stay out of foul trouble for Butler to pull off the victory.
Shelvin Mack has carried the Bulldogs through the tournament in the Zoom Hyperfuse. He’s averaging 21.8 points per game in this year’s tournament. Mack will have to outperform his competitors, Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb, in the points category.
Kemba Walker in the Jordan 6-17-23. Walker is one of the few players with more points than Mack, averaging 25 per game. If the game is close, Kemba will be the one to carry the Huskies to their third national title.
Jeremy Lamb in the Nike Zoom Hyperfuse. Lamb has picked up the slack on the rare occasion that Kemba is off. He has also become a threat down the stretch, and managed to grab an impressive amount of rebounds for a guard.
Andrew Smith in the Nike Zoom Hyperfuse. Smith is becoming the Matt Howard of the future for the Bulldogs. He’ll need to be strong inside and pull down as many boards as possible for Butler.