Wow, it’s come to this already. I am psyched. Butler is back and as good as ever, even without Gordon Hayward who was the team’s best player on last year’s squad. Shelvin Mack pushed Butler over VCU, and they find themselves facing the best player in college basketball. However, UConn is about more than just Kemba Walker. Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Alex Oriakhi are also solid players. Lamb is a great sidekick for Walker.
Brad Stevens and Jim Calhoun will be pitted against each other in a matchup that won’t disappoint. It’s Butler’s stingy defense against Kemba’s show. Connecticut was able to get by Kentucky, but Butler is going to be an even bigger challenge. For all the talk about Calhoun vs. Calipari, Butler have the youngest coach to ever get to 2 Final Four appearances. While Cal is better than Stevens, Stevens will find a great scheme to try and slow down Walker.
You can’t stop Kemba though. The best you can do is slow him down. Butler was able to throw together another great defensive scheme to take out VCU’s prolific perimeter shooting, but it’s going to take more than a plan to take down the man. Oriakhi is one of the best interior defenders in the game, and he’s going to be able to challenge Matt Howard. Howard’s too good to stop, but Oriakhi isn’t going to make things easy.
UConn’s Roscoe Smith is another tough interior player. This game is full of enticing matchups on the inside and on the outside. The Shelvin Mack and Kemba Walker battle could make this game one for the ages. Shabazz Napier is a great perimeter defender, and he shows the toughness and great defense of this team that goes unnoticed because of the offensive explosion that is Kemba Walker.
Butler and Connecticut are two teams that like rough games, and I fully expect this game to be a 60 point affair for both teams- not combined of course. I think there will be about 130 points scored in total.
In order for Butler to win, they need to play things through Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. Their two stars have to be at their best. They need to establish the paint early with Howard, and then they can start shooting 3s with guys like Shawn Vanzant. Defensively, Howard needs to lock down on Jeremy Lamb. Mack has to help lock down the perimeter, and they need Ronald Nored to dog Walker. Nored is the key to this game. He can’t shut down Walker, but he can make life extremely difficult for him.
UConn has to pass the ball around and play to Butler’s style. They both have similar styles of play, so that shouldn’t be a problem. If you try to play fast against Butler, they’ll will their way to slowing down the game and will greatly decrease your offensive chances. It doesn’t work. UConn has to emphasize ball movement and wait for good looks. It’s exactly what Butler does.
Defensively, Connecticut has to frustrate Matt Howard early. If they can get him into foul trouble early, things will be much easier. Then, they can focus on shutting down Shelvin Mack on the perimeter. Napier has to have a good day today defensively.
Both teams are great, and it is no surprise that both of them have made it this far. Butler and Connecticut are both the perfect tournament teams. They have great coaches, superstars, and role players. They will their way through games and hit big shots. I think UConn have too many weapons, and they just barely escape through this one with Kemba hitting some big shots. The role players on UConn will also come through.