I recorded Saturday's National Championship game between VCU and Butler. And it's amazing to be able to stop and rewind to see how some of the key plays of the game were setup. Yes, there was the difference in rebounding, especially for Butler on the offensive end. And there was of course the Bulldogs denying the Rams' Joey Rodriguez of his offensive ability. But there were two key sequences that really made the difference in Butler winning over VCU.
In the first half, right after Shelvin Mack's three pointer put Butler up 25-24, Jamie Skeen was called for an offensive foul for apparently what was an illegal screen. But when you rewind and look at the play again, Skeen was not trying to set a screen. He was trying to get open for one of Rodriguez' classic drives and kick backs for an open three. Howard just happened to be in his way as Skeen try to get himself free. With Skeen heading to the bench, it was part of that Butler 12-4 run the rest of the way and went up six, 34-28 at the half. It was a huge call.
The second sequence happened again with our two key protagonists Howard and Skeen almost midway through the second half. After a TV timeout with less than twelve minutes left and Butler up one 44-43, Rob Brandenburg missed what seemed to be a sure layup and then Mack buried another three to put the Bulldogs up 47-43. Then in the next possession, Howard picked up his third foul. Right after, Skeen drove the lane and Howard appeared to bump him and no foul was called. Though Skeen would get two points on free throws later to cut it back to two, Mack would bury a contested three, then a layup to put Butler up 52-45.
Howard would pick up his fourth foul later, but that was about a minute and half later after the quick five points by Mack and the Bulldogs had more of a cushion.
Now I am not saying that it was bad officiating on both those plays. But they were key factors in two series that certainly made a difference for Butler. The numerous fouls that were called and Butler's rebounding prowess definitely slowed down the pace, which frustrated VCU.
As for the entire game, it was terrific. It was really well played defensively and both teams gave it everything they had. The nation got to see how talented Shelvin Mack and Jamie Skeen really are and how huge Matt Howard is down the stretch of games. All that was missing was Howard leveling someone on a pick (don't worry Bulldogs fans, Howard has 40 minutes left to set one vs. UConn).
VCU did miss its share of layups, part of which could be due to Butler's physicality. Skeen and Burgess had their points, but when Rozzell and Rodriguez combine for only five points, nearly seventeen under their combined average, it's going to be hard for the Rams to win. The Bulldogs also did a terrific job of denying Rodriguez' patented drive and kicks (amazingly Rodriguez still had seven assists). Butler also did a terrific job of contesting most of VCU's three point attempts.
As for the second game between Kentucky and UConn, to be honest, I didn't think it was as well played as the first game. It was close though and it was exciting down the stretch. But UConn struggled with the ball a lot (15 turnovers) and was an ugly 1 of 12 from beyond the arc. Kemba Walker had an off game shooting wise and I thought Jeremy Lamb should have got more touches (he was 5 of 8 from the field) UK did a good job of denying UConn offensive rebounds (only six for a team that averages fourteen per game) but Josh Harrelson had by far his worst game of the tournament. And Brandon Knight's 6 of 23 shooting did not help matters. Then finally there was UK's brutal 3 of 12 shooting from the line, typical of a Calipari team.
Honestly, I thought it came down to who made less mistakes at the end and UConn made less mistakes than Kentucky. Napier turned the ballover for UConn on a bad drive, but then there was bad shot selection on the part of Kentucky at the end. Instead of working it to Knight for perhaps a layup or Terrence Jones in the corner, DeAndre Liggins took a bad three point field goal attempt. The game was over after the freshman Napier calmly hit two free throws.
As for the national championship today, I am thoroughly convinced that Butler will win the game. UConn really only has two scoring threats, Walker and Lamb. If Butler plays the kind of D they did against VCU, the Huskies will have a real difficult time scoring. The key for the Bulldogs is to keep the Huskies off the offensive glass. And as long as Howard and Andrew Smith stay out of foul trouble, I think they will. Butler was able to beat one Big East team, Pitt at their own style of play. I don't see any reason why it can't be two. Butler wins 64-58.