A nonconventional matchup on Monday night for both UConn and Butler – two fighters left standing after draining slugfests.
UConn, a team of heavyweights, battle tested coming in, champions of the greatest conference with arguably the best player in America, Kemba Walker.
But it’s the mid-major school with the chip on their shoulder who should be watched. Not one player on Butler was recruited by UConn or was even a top-tier recruit. Butler returns to the championship game riding Shelvin Mack’s terrific shooting (scoring at 21 per game) and Matt Howard’s lunch pail work in the post. Timely contributions by Van Zant and the crew has put Butler in the position for the improbable.
The keys for cutting down the nets…
1) Matt Howard vs. Oriakhi and Okwandu in the post –
UConn hurt Kentucky with its inside presence and controlled the boards to build a 10-point half time advantage. Harrellson was taken out of the game completely. Butler can ill afford this plight with Matt Howard.
2) Let’s Keep Getting Physical, Physical –
Walker and Mack are slight and streaky, making them play through contact…screens…defensive traps…could wear on them potentially and take option No. 1 out of the game for the Huskies. If that’s the case, their offense is without a shot.
3) Stop the Penetration –
Whether Walker is scoring or dishing, his ability to collapse the defense has unleashed his teammates and other offensive weapons throughout the Madness. Kentucky lacked an interior shot blocker and therefore is forced for its weak side defenders to go out of position to contest.
4) Efficiency –
Both teams just showed how slim their margin for error is as turnovers and poor shots lead to buckets for the opposition. Butler will make UConn pay if it repeats a 1-of-12 3-point shooting night and double digit turnovers. In Saturday’s games, there was a great disparity in shooting percentage tied into the depth perspective of 20,000 fans on one side (near 45 percent) compared to around 25 percent on the 50,000-seat side, will this continue and will someone build a big lead with the advantage or will one team suffer with lesser possessions?
5) Mental Toughness
This has been Butler’s advantage throughout the tournament. Physically less gifted than their opponent however as a team, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We have seen Butler take a punch, can UConn weather the adversity and pressure of being expected to win?
UConn has the advantage but the vibe here in Houston is that people are rooting for Butler. Plus, UConn is coming off a tough Big East regular season and post-season tournament run – they are no slouches here either.
If it’s a close game then Butler will win. It will be important for UConn to continue turning up the pace and trying for a knockout.
Leigh Klein is the owner of Five-Star Basketball Camps, which Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant all attended in high school. Klein and has overseen the development of more than 100 players in this year’s NCAA tournament. Check Metro daily during March Madness for more of his ramblings.