If only one Cinderella can go to the ball, it might as well be coach Brad Stevens and his Butler Bulldogs
. They meet the Connecticut Huskies
for the NCAA men’s basketball national championship at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. CBS will televise the event starting at 6:23 p.m. (PT).
The Don Best Sports odds screen has Connecticut as a 3 ½-point favorite, with the total set at 129 points.
Butler (28-9 straight-up, 20-13-2 against the spread) advanced by beating 11th seed VCU 70-62 as 3 ½-point favorites. It was a battle marked by grit and hard work by each school. Both teams shot under 40 percent from the floor, but Butler’s 46-30 advantage on the glass was a big reason for the win.
Guard Shelvin Mack scored 24 points for Butler on 8-of-11 from the floor, including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. Forward Jamie Skeen had 27 points for VCU, showing a very nice inside and outside game.
The 132 combined points scored snuck just ‘over’ the 131 ½-point total. Late Butler free throws after intentional fouls were the difference. The ‘over’ is 3-2 for Butler this tournament.
Butler, which has now won 14 straight games, is 7-0 ATS dating back to the start of the Horizon League tournament.
Eighth-seed Butler is trying to match the 1985 Villanova Wildcats as the lowest-seeded school to capture the title. Villanova had the huge upset over Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown squad that was looking for back-to-back titles.
Butler lost 61-59 to Duke in thrilling fashion in last year’s championship game, but easily ‘covered’ the seven-point spread. That game also went ‘under’ the 128 ½-point total.
Michigan’s ‘Fab Five’ teams in the early 90s were the last to lose consecutive title games. The 1998 Kentucky squad was the last to win the national championship after losing in the title game the year before.
The No. 3 seed Huskies (31-9 SU, 22-12 ATS) had the more high profile Final Four game, beating Kentucky 56-55 as two-point underdogs.
The 111 combined points scored went way ‘under’ the 138 ½-point total. The ‘under’ is 4-1 for Connecticut in this tournament, with the defense allowing just 59 PPG.
Kentucky shot just 33.9 percent from the floor with freshman point guard Brandon Knight a dismal 6-of-23. The team converting just 4-of-12 from the line also really hurt.
Kentucky trailed 31-21 at halftime, its lowest first-half output of the season. However, coach John Calipari’s guys clawed back in the second half, even taking some small leads. But Kentucky was the more tired team down the stretch with just seven players seeing action.
Connecticut All-American point guard Kemba Walker had to work for his 18 points. He was 6-of-15 from the field and 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. The entire squad struggled from long range (1-of-12), which needs to improve Monday night.
Connecticut has won 10 straight contests starting with winning the Big East Tournament as a No. 9 seed. The only ‘cover’ failure was a 65-63 win over Arizona in the Elite Eight as 3 ½-point favorites.
The Huskies are perfect outside of Big East regular season play, going 22-0 SU and 15-1 ATS.
Coach Jim Calhoun is looking to join some elite company by winning his third national title (1999 and 2004 the others). Only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp and Bobby Knight have won three or more.
The Monday night matchups will be exciting to watch. Mack (16.1 PPG) is averaging 23.5 PPG in his last four and is much stronger physically than Walker. Walker (23.7 PPG) has the quickness advantage and will play a lot of off-guard with freshman Shabazz Napier handling the ball.
Connecticut has good size up front with starters Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith, plus Charles Okwandu off the bench. Matt Howard, Butler’s big man who is averaging 16.7 PPG, is as crafty as they come drawing fouls around the basket. He had 12 free throw attempts last game and made 11.
The key could be freshman guard Jeremy Lamb (11.1 PPG). He’s been a consistent second scorer this tourney at 17 PPG. He also provides a big matchup problem for Butler with his athleticism and 6-foot-5 length.
Neither team is reporting any significant injuries.