Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Butler dooms themselves with record-setting shooting woes

(photo courtesy of nytimes.com)

Last night's national championship game may have been the ugliest in NCAA history, dating back to the prehistoric days before the three-pointer and pure athleticism dominated the game. Butler shot under 19 percent and made just three two-point field goals all game! Pathetic.

There was something about this Connecticut team heading into the tournament that intrigued a lot of people, me included. They came off a historic conference tournament run to win the Big East, the nation's best conference.

If you disagree with that statement, understand that Connecticut was 9-9 in conference play, finished ninth in the Big East and won a national title. They were 17-0 this season in games against non-Big East opponents.

Butler had another great run as an under-seeded mid-major and Brad Stevens, Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack and the rest of the Bulldogs deserve a lot of credit. They just ran into a more talented team that could match their will to win.

They also ran into a team with a bonafide superstar in Kemba Walker. I wrote in my tournament preview that Walker was the type of player that could carry an otherwise average team deep in the tournament, a la Carmelo Anthony and Stephen Curry. Lo and behold, he made me look smart.

Walker shot just 5-for-19, but this was the first time this tournament Butler had to worry about a player of his caliber. Neither Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Florida or VCU had a player who could dominate like Walker.

Despite his struggles, Walker showed how important stars are in the game of basketball, maybe moreso in college with the talent disparity being greater than it is in the NBA. I like Jeremy Lamb but outside of him, the Huskies lack scoring alongside Walker. Butler did a good job defensively making Walker work for shots, but that left other players open to do some damage.

Connecticut's role players did enough to win, but if Butler could have shot even 30 percent from the field they would have won this game. Their defense was outstanding but even if you hold a team in the 50's, you still need to score that much yourself. Their lack of a superstar on offense (sorry Matt Howard, you proved why you're not a pro) cost them when it mattered most.

That's not to take anything away from the Bulldogs, who had another great run. With the way they defend, this is a team built for March Madness and if they continue to recruit guys who will work defensively and make plays, they will continue to outperform their seed come tournament time.

Until they find that one big-time offensive player (like Gordon Hayward last season) to make their title dreams come true, they will continue to fall short. Defense takes you far in March, but you still need to put the ball in the basket. Last night Butler couldn't, and that was the ultimate downfall of the underdog.

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