The Butler did it … again.
By defeating VCU 70-62 on Saturday, the Bulldogs found a way back to the national championship game a year after they came within a Gordon Hayward half-court heave of upsetting Duke. Tonight, Butler takes on another traditional power, Connecticut, against whom the Bulldogs hope to capture the first title for a non-major-conference school since UNLV won in 1990. The Huskies, meanwhile, will look to secure their third national title under coach Jim Calhoun.
On TV: NCAA tournament, title game, Butler vs. UConn, today, 9 p.m. CBS
No. 8 Butler (28-9)
Shelvin Mack, guard, junior, 6-foot-3
You can’t go wrong with Mack or senior big man Matt Howard, but it’s Mack who will have the ball in his hands if the game is on the line. He’s been clutch throughout the tournament, averaging 21.8 points; he went 5-of-6 from 3 en route to a 24-point performance on Saturday.
Shawn Vanzant, guard, senior, 6-foot
You know what to expect from Mack and Howard, but a third scorer must step up for the Bulldogs. That player could very well be Vanzant, who can create his own shot and hit from downtown (41 percent) — skills that will be important against a UConn defense that just held Kentucky to 55 points.
What Butler must do to win
Butler is not a run-and-gun team; its strength on both offense and defense is half-court execution. Brad Stevens has proven to be a masterful tactician, and if his team sticks to the game plan and doesn’t try to run with the Huskies, Butler could cut down the nets in Houston.
No. 3 Connecticut (31-9)
Kemba Walker, guard, junior, 6-foot-1
Did you think it would be anyone else? The Bronx native has been in the Player of the Year discussion all season and has continued to show why in the Big Dance, averaging 25 points. While Walker has demonstrated his ability to get his teammates involved (12 assists in the tournament opener and seven in each of the last two games), he is clearly The Man on this young UConn team.
Shabazz Napier, guard, freshman, 6-foot
One of the seven freshman (and nine underclassmen) who have followed Walker’s lead, Napier will be critical in tonight’s matchup. He will be called upon to score at times when Butler keys on Walker, but it will be his defense that could affect the game the most; Napier is an excellent on-ball defender and could be utilized against Mack.
What UConn must do to win
UConn’s ability to limit Butler’s second-chance points will be imperative. The Bulldogs have been ferocious on the glass, outrebounding four of their five tournament opponents. If the Huskies can keep Howard, Andrew Smith and Ronald Nored off the boards and hold Butler to one shot on most possessions, the UConn men will celebrate their first title since 2004.
Tale of the tape
Location: Storrs, Conn.
Conference: Big East
NBA alumni: 30, including 11 active (e.g. Ray Allen, Ben Gordon)
Conference: Horizon League
NBA alumni: Four, including one active (Gordon Hayward)