When this season began, many believed Butler would replace Gonzaga as the mid-major program most likely to make a major national impact at NCAA tournament time. But the Zags won the Maui Invitational and have climbed to No. 15 in the polls, and they have their sights set on taking down another giant, No. 7 Duke, in the Aeropostale Classic at 4 p.m. Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Coach Mark Few's team is 8-2, including a 75-71 loss to Michigan State, which was ranked No. 2 at the time, and a 77-75 loss to Wake Forest of the ACC. But they also posted impressive wins in Maui against Big Ten power Wisconsin and resurgent Big East contender Cincinnati in a 61-59 overtime final.
A win over Duke would be a major notch in Few's belt, but it won't come easily. The Blue Devils are 20-6 at the Garden under coach Mike Krzyzewski and have won 12 of their past 13 New York appearances, including wins over Arizona State and Connecticut in the NIT Season Tip-Off last month.
The MVP of that tournament was Blue Devils guard Jon Scheyer, who is coming off a career-high 36-point performance in a blowout of lowly Gardner-Webb. Scheyer is averaging 18.0 points per game and leads the NCAA in with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 6.4-1. Also averaging double figures points for the Devils are Kyle Singler (16.4), Nolan Smith (16.3) and freshman Andre Dawkins (10.6) coming off the bench.
Gonzaga counters with four double-figures scorers, including guards Matt Bouldin (16.8) and Steven Gray (13.8), 7-foot center Robert Sacre (13.0) and forward Elias Harris (13.3). The game will be televised nationally on CBS.