A small school from Indiana goes for the title against a well-known powerhouse.
That's where the comparison ends between this year's Butler team and fictional Hickory High School in the movie Hoosiers.
Butler coach Brad Stevens is not old school coach Norman Dale played by Gene Hackman. Stevens is only 33 years old and is one of the best young coaches in college basketball today.
This Butler team is good. Very very good. They have won 25 straight games and haven't lost in the 2010 calendar year. They have a record of 33-4. The Bulldogs are far from underdogs. Just ask any team in the Horizon League.
They can beat the big boys too. In fact, if they beat Duke tonight, they will have a win against a team from every BCS Conference except the SEC (they didn't play any teams from the SEC this year).
But more than anything else, the casual fan will go into this game with the misconception that Butler is a team of corn fed Indiana white boys who will have to make up for their athletic deficiencies with great fundamental play and great hustle.
Make no mistake, this Butler team will play fundamental basketball, hustle and hit open shots. Eight of the fifteen players on their roster are white, and all are from Indiana. But this Butler team is very athletic too. Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored, Willie Veasley and Shawn Vanzant (all African-American) provide a group of guards that are deep, very athletic and will get in your face and frustrate you defensively.
Coming into the season and the tournament the one major question mark that Duke has, is their lack of guard depth. John Scheyer and Nolan Smith are stars, but beyond them the Dukies don't have much. They have yet to play a team in this tournament with the depth and athleticism of Butler. Three of Duke's five losses came against teams that had good deep guard play (Wisconsin, N.C. St. and Maryland).
If Butler plays like Wisconsin did when they beat Duke earlier in the year by limiting turnovers, playing great defense and hitting open shots the Bulldogs could pull of the upset.
I realize that Duke's John Scheyer is a Second Team AP All-American, but Butler may have the best player and clearly the best NBA prospect on the court in Gordan Hayward. Hayward is averaging over 15 points and 8 boards a game. At 6-9/209 with incredible guard skills he is a matchup problem for any team. He reminds me of Mike Miller, but many have compared him to former Duke wing Mike Dunlevy Jr.
Duke will likely put forward Kyle Singler or guard Nolan Smith on Hayward. If they have Smith guard Hayward then both of thier forwards, Singler and Lance Thomas will need to defend the perimeter.
Duke has a major, and I mean major advantage in up front. They have 7-1 role playing big man Brian Zoubek, Thomas and the Plumlee brothers. But if Butler's stud big man Matt Howard is healthy and is able to stay out of foul trouble the Bulldogs will have somewhat of a low post presence.
Duke is a seven point favorite and they should be the favorite. I'm not saying that Butler will win. But if they do, it isn't the greatest upset in sports history. The Bulldogs are a great team. This isn't Hoosiers. It's not David vs. Goliath. It's not even the UConn-George Mason Elite 8 game of 2006.
It's TWO very good basketball teams playing each other for the National Title. Let's not forget that.