Butler forward Matt Howard left Saturday's semifinal win over Michigan State in the second half after banging his head on the floor and didn't return because he wasn't feeling well. Coach Brad Stevens said he will be kept under observation today and would not practice and his availability for Monday night's championship game against Duke would be a game-day decision.
Howard's status was updated this afternoon with a statement from Butler head trainer Ryan Galloy that described his injury as a "mild concussion." Galloy said: "We are monitoring Matt's symptoms, and he'll be evaluated by our team physician on Monday. It will be a game-time decision as to whether he can play or not."
However, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski spoke briefly with Stevens at a joint TV interview earlier today and left with the impression Howard probably will play. Some of Howard's teammates had that same understanding of the situation. "I talked to him this morning, and I think he will play," Butler guard Zach Hahn said of Howard. "Obviously, that depends on what the doctors say.
"I think it's very important, not just that he plays, but that he plays well. Duke is huge. We haven't really played against size like that yet in this tournament with [7-1 center Brian] Zoubek."
If Howard is unavailable or if he experiences head-injury symptoms, the likely replacements are senior forward Avery Jukes or freshman center Andrew Smith. "Matt has been in foul trouble pretty consistently throughout the season, so, I'm always ready," Jukes said. "They've got a big team, so, I'm going to have to play quite a bit. It's going to be big for me tomorrow."
Despite his lack of experience, the 6-11 Smith said: "I know I can play with the good teams. I've been playing against a good post player [Howard] for the last five months, so, my confidence is through the roof right now."
Butler also lost guard Shelvin Mack in the second half against Michigan State because he developed cramps. But he has recovered and is expected to be in the starting lineup against Duke.
"I think I had some food poisoning from dinner on Thursday," Mack said. "We were at a restaurant, and I was throwing up real bad. I think that took a lot of fluids out of me. I just wasn't able to go in the second half…I'm glad my teammates did a good job and gave me another opportunity to come out and play Monday night."