A final that's better than the movie
INDIANAPOLIS -- Well, of course. This is the only way it could end.
The most dramatic, theatric and in some ways therapeutic NCAA tournament in many years -- maybe ever -- has to come down to this. By all that is hoops holy, it has to end with an overdog-underdog matchup of epic proportion.
Duke versus Butler for the national championship. C'mon. This is better than the movies -- and you know which movie I'm referring to.
Duke, the program with everything. Butler, the program with a nice doggy mascot.
Duke, gunning for its fourth national title in 19 years, the most accomplished program of the past quarter century, playing in a title game for the sixth consecutive decade. Butler, playing for its first title in school history -- after decades of never even dreaming of such a thing.
Duke, from the lordly Atlantic Coast Conference. Butler, wandering in from the mid-major Horizon League.[+] EnlargeBob Donnan/US PresswireButler is a modern-day Milan High School.
Duke, which according to CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell spent $394,068 per player in 2008-09. Butler, which Rovell says spent $347,108 on player expenses for the entire team last season.
Duke, coached by Mike Krzyzewski, owner of an Olympic gold medal and three championship rings and 76 NCAA tourney victories, trying to become the third-oldest coach to win a title. Butler, coached by Brad Stevens, mistaken for a player by Lucas Oil Stadium security last week, a mere 70 NCAA wins behind Coach K, trying to become the second-youngest titlist.
Duke, with its six McDonald's All-Americans. Butler, with its 10 homegrown Hoosiers.
In terms of program pedigree, this is Rockefellers versus last night's Powerball winner. Old money versus nouveau riche. And these are the most clearly defined rooting interests since, ohhhh, Tonya versus Nancy?
(No, my sensitive Dukie friends, you haven't kneecapped any Bulldogs. But know your role -- and your role is uber-villain here Monday night against the fresh faces from the little school just up the road. If you thought people were predisposed to root against your team before now, the dislike just went off the charts.)
So from now until tipoff, we have the perfect plotline.
After that, we'll see how long it holds up.
If Duke plays the way it did Saturday night in demolishing West Virginia, or if Butler is too battered from its brawl with Michigan State, the plot will collapse right after the opening tip. It would be last season's title mauling all over again -- another home-state overachiever being bulldozed by an ACC powerhouse.
The Blue Devils were simply brilliant in dismantling the Mountaineers 78-57. They made 13 of 25 3-point shots. They had 20 assists and only six turnovers. They frustrated West Virginia leading scorer Da'Sean Butler into a 2-for-8 shooting night.
I think they're one of the best teams in the country.” -- Coach K on Butler
"They played really, really well," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "I watched a lot of tape, and they've never played that well."
Butler, on the other hand, played only well enough to win 52-50. It staggered to the finish line missing 19 of 25 second-half shots against the Spartans, including all seven from 3-point range. Forward Matt Howard went down with a mild concussion and played only 15 minutes. Point guard Shelvin Mack played just eight second-half minutes because of dehydration. Star Gordon Hayward was sporting a fat lip postgame.
"I would never have dreamed we would have won shooting 15-for-49," Stevens said. " Guys really, really dug in."
They will have to dig the Panama Canal to beat the Blue Devils on Monday. They will have to fight through the Washington Monument-width screens of Brian Zoubek to chase the deadeye Duke shooters. They will have to keep Duke off the glass. They will have to make more than one of every three shots.
Krzyzewski correctly pointed out Saturday night that Duke's institutional memory of its title runs pretty well stops with him. The players are in their first Final Four, same as Butler's. And he also made sure to declare that Butler is good, hardly backdooring its way into this title game.
"I think they're one of the best teams in the country," Krzyzewski said. "I think Cinderella would be if somebody had eight, nine losses and pulled some upsets, stuff like that. I think they've won 25 in a row. [He's correct.] They've beaten Syracuse and Kansas State and Michigan State tonight. I don't really consider them Cinderella."[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Darron CummingsMike Krzyzewski has overseen the most successful program during the past 25 years.
Cinderella, no. David -- or, to go Hoosier Hysteria on the readership, Milan High School -- yes.
By seeding, there have been bigger underdog-overdog matchups in NCAA title game history. In 1985, Villanova was a No. 8 seed and Georgetown was a No. 1 -- in fact, it was the clear overall top seed in that tourney, even though that distinction was not formally made back then. But those two programs were peers -- both Big East schools of similar background, funding and profile.
And in 1983, when No. 6 seed North Carolina State shocked Phi Slama Jama Houston, State owned a national title from the previous decade and membership in the ACC -- not the Horizon League.
This? This is different.
From a program-imbalance standpoint, 1979 comes to mind. Indiana State of the Missouri Valley Conference against Michigan State of the Big Ten. But the Sycamores had Larry Bird and were an undefeated No. 1 seed. The Spartans, with Magic Johnson, were a six-loss No. 2 seed.
So feel free to flip back, back, back through the record books and find the contrast that strikes you best. Texas Western-Kentucky, 1966? Loyola Chicago-Cincinnati, 1963? Knock yourself out.
All I know is that this gives us a lot to talk about between now and 9 p.m. ET on Monday. And once the game starts, the Blue Devils officially are on notice:
Don't get caught watching the paint dry.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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