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Duke is final giant standing in way of Butler and its slingshot

Butler is the smallest school to reach the

Butler is the smallest school to reach the NCAA Championship Game since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. (Apr. 3, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS - The roles are clearly drawn, and the cliches and stereotypes are unavoidable whether Butler and Duke like it or not.

With an undergraduate enrollment of 4,200, the smallest of any school to reach the national championship game since the NCAA field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Butler (33-4) of the Horizon League is David. That makes Duke (34-5), with its 10 championship game appearances, three NCAA titles and Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tradition, Goliath.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose fourth NCAA title would tie him with Kentucky's Adolph Rupp for second all-time behind UCLA's John Wooden, sees a different story line. "What I think is a great story is two private institutions playing for the national title," Krzyzewski said. "I think that's a pretty cool thing."

Not only is that not a sexy angle, but that would put the two schools on the same footing, which they clearly are not. Krzyzewski even told Butler coach Brad Stevens, "You'll be shocked at how much your school will change as a result of what you and your kids have done." Obviously, Coach K, who has a trademark-type nickname, knows the value of visibility.

Stevens, 33 - the second-youngest coach in history to reach the title game behind only Indiana's 31-year-old Branch McCracken back in 1940 - and his players have tried to deflect any "Cinderella" comparisons because they've earned their place at the ball. But Stevens said it's OK to cast Butler as David.

"It's great," Stevens said. "We embrace that . . . David won. I think, certainly, Duke is Goliath. Ever since I've been watching college basketball, coach Krzyzewski and Duke have been one of the preeminent programs in the country. They have earned that reputation as a giant."

The David vs. Goliath analogy is more literal on the court. Duke's size - with 7-1 center Brian Zoubek, 6-8 forwards Lance Thomas and Kyle Singler and 6-10 backups Miles and Mason Plumlee - is an obstacle for the undersized Bulldogs, especially if 6-8 post man Matt Howard is sidelined after suffering a mild concussion in Saturday's semifinal win over Michigan State. His status is a game-time decision.

Butler has held all five tournament opponents to fewer than 60 points, but if Duke's top three scorers - Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Singler - play as well as they did when they totaled 63 of Duke's 78 points in a 21-point semifinal win over West Virginia, the Blue Devils are likely to win.

"It's just going to be about making them uncomfortable," Butler guard Ronald Nored said. "We're going to have to be physical with them, get them out of what they like to do."

Duke's defensive task is a little easier because it can focus more on stopping Bulldogs forward Gordon Hayward. But the Blue Devils have seen how the Bulldogs win with defense, beating the likes of No. 1 seed Syracuse, No. 2 Kansas State and 2009 national runner-up Michigan State in the past three games.

"I don't think that's the right way to look at it," Scheyer said when asked about the David vs. Goliath theme. "Those guys have beaten a lot of great teams, big-time programs."

Duke is as big-time as it gets, but Butler's Stevens said his players believe they are up to the task. "They have great respect for Duke," Stevens said. "If you don't, then you need your humility checked. But they haven't played with an 'awe factor' the whole year."

Can't run from Goliath now.

New York Sports