In the first month of this Halfwits thing we’ve had an awful lot of talk about the 2011 NCAA tournament. In fact, all we’ve talked about is the 2011 NCAA tournament. Alas, with the finals match up decided we’ll finally be moving on to some other topics for the heart of spring but not before we break down the Final Four games and look ahead to UConn-Butler. I wouldn’t be themanbearpig if I didn’t.
UConn-Butler. This sounds even stranger than Duke-Butler did a year ago, which has something to do with where these teams began the season in the polls. It also has to do with the even wider gap in the nature of the teams this year. I love to root against the Dukies, but in 4 centuries (roughly) under Coach K there have never been any major NCAA infractions to speak of. Additionally, it’s a high level academic institution and most of its basketball players (if not all) graduate. Now, if you were looking for a comparable up-and-coming elite program that most looks like the Duke blueprint (and success) of the past 25 years you would have to look no further than…Butler. The teams are the same in every way but their basketball history, and with two finals runs the Bulldogs are starting to inch their way towards the storied success of the Blue Devils.
On the other side you have UConn. This is not to say that the University of Connecticut isn’t a great school. Having grown up in Connecticut I know all about the strides the school has made to become an outstanding public university. Still, when it comes to the basketball program that academic success is drastically tempered. Additionally, there have been increasing amounts of NCAA violations in recent years when it comes to recruiting. Have any Final Fours been vacated? No. Are they even approaching the levels of UNLV and Michigan in the past and any Calipari team since ever? No. But this kind of thing can be a slippery slope. Just ask Bruce Pearl.
But enough about academics, NCAA success rates and recruiting infractions, let’s move onto the important stuff (wait, what?) and break down this match up. To say that the Final Four games were defensive struggles would be like describing the theangrybear as, well, angry. That much was blatantly obvious from looking at the box score. Still, you had to watch the games to truly grasp the level of offensive ineptitude. VCU-Butler started out well enough with the Rams making a bevy of three pointers and Butler patiently working through a tough full court press. Still, as the game wore on VCU seemed incapable of making easy baskets and Butler did everything in its power to keep the Rams in it during the second half until the Rams had to start fouling. At least they both made it over the 60 point threshold.
I tweeted (@TheManBearPig77) part way through the first half of UConn-Kentucky that they would struggle to get to 120 points combined, and even that was an overestimation. Neither team shot above 40% (in fact Kentucky was by far the closest to the mark) and Kemba Walker went cold in the second half after an efficient performance in the first 20 minutes. He wound up with a solid 18 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists in 40 minutes but his decisions in the second half to go for some very tough three pointers (blocked) and force the ball inside (turnovers) were slightly disconcerting heading into another tough defense in the final. Kentucky’s NCAA Tourney and season hero Brandon Knight (26% on field goals) went cold in the last 10 minutes and forward Josh Harrelson was in foul trouble early, dooming the Wildcats to another championship-less season (it’s a title drought of Sahara-esque proportions in Lexington these days).
Foul shooting was again the story of each game in the tournament, although no one really talked about it. Kentucky went 4 of 12 while UConn went 9 of 11 in a pretty evenly called game (although Kemba may finally be getting some big star calls). VCU shot 61% while Butler shot 77%, but Butler also had twice as many foul shooting opportunities (26 to 13). I think that may have something to do with that whole Duke comparison I was talking about, but Brad Stevens’ subdued manner on the court can’t be understated either. For aspiring young coaches, this is the guy you want to emulate.
The final again looks like a great David versus Goliath match up. If Butler can corral Kemba and Jeremy Lamb while getting Matt Howard to shoot half way efficiently (only 3 of 10 on Saturday) they can be even more comfortable in this game than they were playing Duke a year ago. Shelvin Mack finally got hot on Saturday, a good sign for a key scorer that has shot poorly through most of the tournament. On the other side, UConn’s size was huge (yet again) against Kentucky and could certainly disrupt a relatively small Butler team. In addition UConn’s depth (10 players saw time in the semifinals as opposed to Butler’s 8 ) could be a factor, especially when you consider how important any amount of rest can be for Kemba Walker. Regardless, I think it will be another great game befitting what has already been an entertaining tournament in 2011. I’m going with Goliath…but not by much.
In baseball news the Orioles are 3-0 and in 1st place! The Baltimore Police Department is on the streets in full riot gear with the fire department on speed dial…you think I’m kidding. The Red Sox are in fifth place after three games (surprisingly) and the Yankees are right where they were supposed to be coming in; putting up 10 runs a game and allowing about 9. The team that put the Red Sox in that 0-3 hole is a Texas team that looks incredibly good (Ian Kinsler took three games to get to three homers after taking 52 games to get there last year) while Josh Hamilton is picking up where he left off with that whole MVP thing. Meanwhile, if you want to get really crazy look no further than the AL Central, where the Royals are off to a 3-1 start against the perennially good Angels.
The Phils are off to an expectedly strong start (and keeping that 162-0 talk alive…I’m only partially kidding) while the Nationals are trying to prove they can win even before their young investments get their feet wet. The Reds helped make opening day an exciting one (after kick starting their division title run in the same fashion last year) while Votto picked up where he left off with his whole MVP thing. The NL West is typically cluttered as the defending champs have slightly sputtered to a 1-2 start. With less than 3 to 4 games gone, we’ve got a nice little season shaping up.
That’s all for now folks. Follow me on twitter (@TheManBearPig77) and tune in next time for: “The Royals are winning, Kobe may tie MJ, India won a cricket world cup, and two mid majors played each other in the Final Four; it’s 2011 not 2012 right?,” “Mistress testimony, supplements (butt needles), cutting heads off and the MLB home run king; it’s 2011 not 2012 right?,” “Jim Calhoun didn’t coach UConn in the Fiesta Bowl…right?”