Before the 5 things to watch tonight, keep in mind these two teams had two common opponents during the year. Louisville and Pittsburgh. The Cardinals crushed Butler. They beat UConn close once, and blew them out another, and then lost to them close in the Big East title game. Pittsburgh, oddly enough, lost their final two games of the season, both in the final seconds, to both UConn and Butler. Strange.
Here are the keys:
1) 3 point shooting. The great equalizer in college hoops over the years for the little guy will have to be again tonight for Butler to win. The Bulldogs hit 41/127 in the NCAA compared to 29/85 for the Huskies. I think Butler needs to be +9pts or better on the 3 tonight.
2) FT shooting. Nothing worse than missing a front end of a one and one, and missing foul shots in general will kill you. Butler is only a 72% FT shooting team (75/104) in the tournament and have been up and down at times. UConn is a sparkling 81% (66/84), and Kemba Walker is 38/42 himself. Gotta make your free throws.
3) Efficiency. Both team are great in this aspect. They protect the ball, value each possession, and take good shots. UConn is a little better however shooting the ball, making 46% for the dance compared to just over 40% for Butler. This, in part, is why Butler has to win the 3pt battle. It also is why #4 is so important.
4) Rebounding. Both teams are terrific on the glass. I think the key tonight, in what should be a close game on the scoreboard and on the boards, is the Bulldogs offensive glass vs. the Huskies defensive glass. Butler has been brilliant in getting second chances so far averaging 13ORPG. Keep that number in mind. Anything under 10 and they are in big trouble.
5) Foul trouble. For the Huskies, they’ve gotten SD State’s Kewai Leonard, Arizona’s Derrick Williams, and Kentucky’s Josh Harrellson in trouble and on the bench in each of the first halves of their games. Matt Howard is a foul magnet…for the season, the tournament, and in last year’s title game. I don’t see how he avoids it tonight. And they miss him a lot when he is on the bench.
Those are the key things to watch. I hope Butler wins, but I think UConn will win a close game. Butler will struggle shooting and scoring. The Huskies are my pick, 60-55.