College Basketball Nation: 040310 mountaineers-bluedevils

Andy Katz and Mark Schlabach break down Duke's 78-57 win over West Virginia in the second national semifinal on Saturday night in Indianapolis.
Kyle Singler and Jon ScheyerBob Donnan/US PresswireForward Kyle Singler scored 21 points to help lead Duke to the title game.

INDIANAPOLIS -- West Virginia played 13 guys in its Final Four game against Duke.

Three guys beat the Mountaineers.

The real final score: Duke 78, West Virginia 57.

The other final score: Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler 63, West Virginia 57.

The Big Three, as they’re called, finally lived up to their moniker in a game when Duke needed them most.

The trio provided 63 of the Blue Devils’ 78 points, 17 of their 20 assists, 12 of their 13 3-pointers and 12 of their 29 rebounds to put the Blue Devils back in the national title game.

“It’s a lot of fun when we get it going like that, a lot,’’ Singler said. “It’s like we all feed off one another. When we shoot like that, with our defense and our rebounding, we’re tough to beat.’’

The triumvirate ranks as the highest-scoring trio in NCAA basketball this season, but it’s been a long time since all three were firing on all cylinders.

In this NCAA tournament, the three have more often taken turns dominating a game than combining to dispatch an opponent together.

Smith had the hot hand against Baylor, Singler against Purdue. It was Smith’s turn against California and back to Singler in the opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Saturday's game was only the third time all season all three had at least 19. In fact, this was the first Final Four game in nine years in which three teammates scored 19-plus. The last team to do? Duke's title team of 2001 (with Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer and Jay Williams pulling it off).

“We definitely feel a responsibility to score the ball,’’ Smith said. “We know when all three of us have a good game, how tough this team is to beat.’’

Against WVU, the trio shredded West Virginia’s 1-3-1 zone. They teed it up for 12-of-23 shooting from 3-point range, putting the Mountaineers on their heels with seven treys by the halftime break.

“Those threes are just daggers,’’ Brian Zoubek said. “I think when they miss, we get the rebound, kick it out and then they hit it, that just really takes a lot out of a team.’’
Da'Sean ButlerAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillDa'Sean Butler, center, needed help leaving the floor after his knee injury Saturday.

INDIANAPOLIS -- West Virginia guard Da'Sean Butler sat in a chair in the Mountaineers' locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night, his left knee wrapped in ice and crutches sitting nearby.

With about nine minutes remaining in the Mountaineers' 78-57 loss to Duke in the national semifinals of the NCAA tournament, Butler felt his left knee buckle as he drove to the basket. Immediately, he clutched his leg and fell to the floor.

Butler's worst fears instantly ran through his mind.

"I hope this isn't what I think it is," Butler told himself.

"But it hurt," he said.

After Butler lay on the court in obvious pain for a few minutes, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins walked onto the floor. After chirping at officials, Huggins leaned over his player until they were nearly nose-to-nose. Huggins appeared to wipe a tear from Butler's cheek.

"I was just apologizing because I wanted to win it for him, too," Butler said.

"Don't be sorry," Huggins told him. "I love ya."

The scene was one of the more emotional moments in recent NCAA tournament history. A star player crumbling to the floor and his volatile coach helping pick him up.

"I'm not surprised," Butler said. "That's my coach. He's like a father to me. It's something we expect him to do. Maybe everyone else didn't, but we're all a family and we love each other."

Butler said he was more scared than anything else. After watching Purdue star Robbie Hummel suffer a season-ending knee injury late in the season, Butler feared he'd suffered the same fate. And with a potential NBA career looming, Butler didn't want his college career to end with a serious injury.

"I was just terrified," Butler said. "I've seen a couple of my good friends hurt their knees. I didn't want it to happen to me."

Huggins said Butler's biggest concern at the time was that he had let his teammates down.

"I knew it was bad because [Butler] is really a tough guy," Huggins said. "I've said this repeatedly and I mean this: He's a really, really good player, but he's a better person. When I went out, it was more about he felt like he let his teammates down than his injury. That's how he is. He's got a great heart."

Butler, who last week was named second-team All-American by the Associated Press, scored 10 points on 2-for-8 shooting. The Mountaineers trailed 63-48 when he was hurt.

Butler made two foul shots to cut Duke's lead to 46-40 with 15:44 to go, but the Blue Devils went on a 12-4 run over the next four minutes to blow the game open.

"I'd do anything for the last 14 minutes," Butler said, as his blood-shot eyes began to tear up again. "I wish I could change it. That's it. That's all I've got."
Kyle SinglerAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillKyle Singler and Duke have ramped up their rebounding this season.
INDIANAPOLIS – Walk-on Casey Peters left Duke’s practice down a tooth the other day, the latest casualty in the skirmishes that have become commonplace for the Blue Devils this season.

“It seems like every practice, someone leaves bleeding,’’ Brian Zoubek said.

Once labeled soft, Duke has changed its tenor this season, allowing its size to redefine the image of the program. The Blue Devils don’t always shoot the ball, but they always rebound it.

This season Duke is beating its opponents on the boards by an average of seven rebounds per game, but it’s on the offensive glass that has really been the difference. The Devils average 14 offensive rebounds per game.

In a 78-57 win against West Virginia, the Blue Devils shot 53 percent and still pulled down 11 offensive rebounds.

Think about that.

Duke barely missed yet still managed a 19 to 7 edge on second-chance points, including scoring the first 17 second-chance points of the game.

“We rebound the heck out of the ball,’’ Lance Thomas said. “If they miss, we’re going to rebound it and kick it back out to them. They aren’t going to miss twice too often.’’

Rebounding isn’t something that just comes upon a team like some sort of midnight inspiration. It’s an attitude and it has to be honed.

For Duke, that’s happened at practice.

“We go at it,’’ Thomas said. “It’s ugly. We really suffer and push it to the brink. Sometimes there’s some scuffles’’

Zoubek, who now gets a ‘Zoooo’ chant from the Duke faithful just for snagging a board, dresses more like a lineman than a center – thigh pads, knee pads, arm bands – and has become the angrier face of the once placid Duke team.

His 10 rebounds against WVU were every bit as critical as the points scored by the big three of Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer.

“It’s hard. You have to learn to love it,’’ Zoubek said. “I think for a while we didn’t understand that you had to work that hard. Now we recognize it’s all for a reason. We’re here and it’s well worth it.’’

Photoblog: A touching moment

April, 4, 2010
Bob HugginsAP Photo/Darron CummingsWest Virginia coach Bob Huggins consoles forward Da'Sean Butler after he was injured.
INDIANAPOLIS -- West Virginia star Da'Sean Butler said doctors have told him he has a sprained left knee and didn't expect to find more serious damage once they re-examine him in a few days.

[+] EnlargeDa'Sean Butler
AP Photo/Chris SteppigWest Virginia's Da'Sean Butler holds his left leg after colliding with Duke's Brian Zoubek.
Butler was injured with 8:59 left to play in the Mountaineers' 78-57 loss to Duke in Saturday night's national semifinal game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Butler, a senior from Newark, N.J., was hurt while driving to the basket. He said he planted his left foot to hop toward the basket, but planted too hard. His knee buckled and he fell to the court.

"It wasn't that big of a deal," Butler said. "It scared me because I've never hurt anything before. You see all these people get hurt, and I was afraid it happened to me."

Butler, who was named a second-team All-America by the Associated Press earlier this week, scored 10 points on 2-for-8 shooting in 28 minutes.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Well, that was tough to watch. Da'Sean Butler's brutal-looking second-half injury sealed a 78-57 blowout Duke victory, and partially obscured what was a truly beautiful performance by a dominant Blue Devil team. Further analysis therein:

HOW THE GAME WAS WON: How many ways are there to extol Duke's brilliance tonight? How many phrases can stand in for "Duke was just awesome." Because it was, from start to finish. The Blue Devils played under control. They operated with calm, clinical efficiency on the offensive end. They never forced. They got to the rim and finished plays. They made a torrent of 3s (tying the Final Four record with 13). They defended at every position, helping and rotating and making things continually difficult for a West Virginia team that could never quite catch up. This wasn't just Duke's best game of the tournament, but the best game of the season. It was, without straining to find another adjective, awesome. In every way.

TURNING POINT: This is no big secret. With 8:59 remaining in the second half, Butler drove baseline and met Brian Zoubek under the hoop. Butler collapsed in a heap. Replays showed that he buckled his knee. Things got solemn in a hurry. As Butler writhed on the ground, biting his fist in pain, his knee being looked at by the team doctor, Bob Huggins came out of the coach's box and leaned down into his player's face. They were inches apart. Butler was crying. Huggins was wiping his cheeks. We may never know what passed between the two, but it was one of the more touching and difficult sports sights I've ever seen.

Duke was already beginning to pull away at that point, but the Butler injury sealed the deal. With their star player and emotional leader being wheeled into the locker room on a golf court, the Mountaineers were officially done. It's a shame it had to end that way. But end it did.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Jon Scheyer -- 23 points, six assists, two rebounds, two steals. Counting his assists in the equation, Scheyer had a hand in half the team's points. Scheyer is officially past his slump. Just in time for a chance at the national championship. Convenient, right?

PLAYER OF THE GAME II: Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler share this honor. There's a reason they're called the Big Three. All three of them were big tonight. Try a combined 63 points, 17 assists and 12 3s. That group alone outscored WVU, 63-57.

STAT OF THE GAME: Duke's offensive efficiency remains the story here. Duke scored 1.5 points per possession against West Virginia, a team that had been allowing a mere .88 points per trip this season. The Blue Devils made a ton of shots (52.7 percent from the field; a 64.5 effective field goal percentage), and when they missed, they grabbed offensive rebounds, and made those shots. They scored the first 17 second-chance points of the game. That Duke was able to so thoroughly dominate this West Virginia team is a marvel. Who saw that coming?

COUNTRY ROADS: Bob Huggins is officially a sympathetic figure. I wrote that before the Final Four -- heck, this was happening before the Mountaineers beat Kentucky -- but after tonight's performance, few fans will be able to claim Huggins is merely a sleazeball that doesn't care about his players. He has his faults, sure, and he stands out for being gruff in a profession that rewards gruffness like few others, but the man has love in his heart. That's never been clearer than tonight. Sad that it had to end for Huggins, but he seems to have found a place that appreciates him as much as he appreciates it. Sappy? Sure. True? I think so.

Final: Duke 78, West Virginia 57

April, 3, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS -- Quick thoughts after Duke’s 78-57 national semifinal win over West Virginia.

This victory will be remembered for Duke’s impressive offensive display, the horrific left knee injury to West Virginia senior forward Da'Sean Butler, and the reaction from West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.

Let's examine each:
  • Duke sliced through West Virginia’s porous defense and moved the ball well, finding the mismatch or open shooter. Just when the Blue Devils looked like they might have an issue, a pass would find Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer or Kyle Singler. The ability for Duke to rebound as well, especially by senior center Brian Zoubek was monumental in keeping the Blue Devils’ possessions alive.
  • Butler was driving to the basket with 8:59 left in the game and his left knee buckled. You could hear his scream from press row. Butler tried to put weight on his left leg but couldn’t. He was helped off the court and made it only to the bench. He needed more help to get to the locker room. Butler had a magnificent senior season, including seven game-winning shots. Butler will have to earn a first-round spot in the NBA draft without any workouts in the spring. That’s going to be tough.
  • Huggins should never be looked at the same again. Huggins’ reaction to Butler’s injury should show the country how much he cares about his players. I have never seen a coach get so close to a player during an injury of this magnitude. Huggins was within inches of Butler’s face. He was cradling his head, patting his stomach. He was visibly upset with the officiating but didn’t take his mind off Butler. His compassion for his players is real. He was genuinely upset and no one should think otherwise.

Injured Da'Sean Butler leaves game

April, 3, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS – Quick thoughts with Duke up 67-52 on West Virginia with 7:07 remaining.

  • West Virginia all-American senior Da'Sean Butler left the court with what appeared to be a severe left knee injury. His knee buckled as he drove inside the lane. He was writhing in pain as he lay on the court. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins barked at the official for not calling a foul and then knelt down within inches of Butler’s face to comfort his star senior. Butler was helped up but couldn’t put any weight on his left leg. He made it to the side of the court, then stopped and had to be helped to the locker room. It was a crushing blow to his career and to the Mountaineers.
  • Duke continues to make shots and has stretched its lead, preventing any chance for the Mountaineers to come back.
  • West Virginia has committed plenty of frustration fouls in the second half.
  • Duke has been the far superior offensive team.

West Virginia needs to find a groove

April, 3, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS – Quick thoughts midway through second half:

  • West Virginia still can’t find its shooters. Duke continues to torch the Mountaineers at key points during this game as Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer were left open for 3-point buckets.
  • Da'Sean Butler continues to look incredibly frustrated. He has never been in a groove.
  • Deniz Kilicli was a factor in the first half, but has hurt the Mountaineers in the second with a turnover, a poor foul and a missed assignment.
  • The Blue Devils got a technical when Miles Plumlee followed a dunk by hanging on the rim. The official who called the tech was Curtis Shaw. It was probably a necessary call but still not surprising that Shaw made the call.
  • Unless West Virginia gets stops Duke will be playing Butler for the national title.

Halftime: Duke 39, West Virginia 31

April, 3, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS – Quick halftime thoughts from Duke’s 39-31 halftime lead on West Virginia.

  • West Virginia’s early defense, especially the 1-3-1 wasn’t working at all as the Mountaineers repeatedly couldn’t find 3-point shooters Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.
  • Duke did to West Virginia what the Mountaineers did somewhat to Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Scheyer, Singler and Smith made 7 of the 14 3s attempted by Duke.
  • The pregame storyline was who would control the backboard and the answer was – Duke. The Blue Devils had seven offensive rebounds and kept plenty of possessions alive. The unselfish play by Duke was evident as it had 12 assists on 16 field goals.
  • Singler is playing like a high draft pick in this tournament. He continues to hunt his shot, make tough ones from behind the 3-point line and can get to the hole.
  • The Mountaineers started to find their rhythm and did shoot 50 percent in making 13 of 26 shots, 4 of 7 3s. The problem was Duke shot over 50 percent.
  • Deniz Kilicli was a factor in the first half by scoring four points in five minutes but did have a costly turnover that led to a bucket.
  • Joe Mazzulla got pummeled multiple times. His shirt was torn and he had to get a new one with a fresh number. He looked like he hurt his ankle and then his head. But he stayed in the game and played 16 of the 20 minutes. The Mountaineers must have him on the court to have a chance.
  • Da'Sean Butler has to find his groove. He is just 1-of-5 from the field. The Mountaineers can’t win if he doesn’t get untracked.
  • Devin Ebanks is the Mountaineers’ stud so far. He’s playing with more enthusiasm, emotion and purpose than I’ve seen at any point this season. He was 4-of-5, got a three-point play when the Mountaineers needed it most and finished with nine points in 17 minutes.
  • Duke is 20 minutes away from facing Butler in the final. That would be perceived as the ultimate David vs. Goliath, even though in this season, the Bulldogs aren’t far off from being an equal.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Halfway through Duke's dominating 39-31 performance over West Virginia in the first half, this one is pretty easy to explain:

HOW THE HALF WAS WON: Duke is making everything. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's charges are 7-of-14 shooting from behind the arc, shooting at a blistering pace and scoring on just about every possession. The Blue Devils look calm, focused, and in rhythm, and when they get open looks -- which has been far too often for Bob Huggins' liking, I'm sure -- they're smoothly stroking them. And it's not like West Virginia is playing all that badly. The Mountaineers have made 4 of 6 from behind the arc. But when you're up against a team this coolly efficient, you've got to make things much more difficult, and for too long in the first half WVU didn't do that.

TURNING POINT: Up until about the eight-minute mark, this was close and hard-fought. Then Duke took things to another level. Call it the perfect storm -- the Blue Devils got into a rhythm in their secondary break, quickly finding open shooters and burying their buckets, while the Mountaineers took about three or four minutes off defensively. The result? A Kyle Singler three. A Jon Scheyer three. A Singler two. A Scheyer two. A Singler three. And then three straight Nolan Smith threes to give Duke a 37-24 lead with 4:34 remaining. Duke would hit a drought quickly afterward, but that torrid display was more than enough to carry them through to the eight-point lead they held at the half.

PLAYER OF THE HALF: Kyle Singler -- 14 points on 6-of-12 from the field. Singler had it going in a big way in the first half, finding open looks, getting buckets off the dribble, and playing the very simple, fundamentally brilliant brand of basketball throughout.

PLAYER OF THE HALF II: Nolan Smith -- 11 points, four assists. Smith's three straight deep threes represented the pinnacle of Duke's incredible offensive performance. If you didn't see it, find a way to do so. It was beautiful basketball.

STAT OF THE HALF: Here's a stat for you: Duke averaged 1.77 points per possession in the first half. Read that again. That means that every time Duke came down the court -- they had 22 possessions, according to SCACC Hoops -- they nearly scored two points every time down. Duke is the most efficient offense in the country, so it's not surprising they're offensively successful. But the scale of that success -- Duke scores 1.22 points per possession normally, and the average for Division I is right at 1.0 -- is astounding.

STAT OF THE HALF II: How did West Virginia get here? Offensive rebounds. That's been the Mountaineers' M.O. all season long -- they weren't a good shooting team, but they could outrebound anyone in the country and get easy putbacks on second chance opportunities. Not tonight: West Virginia has had just two offensive rebounds in this game. Their offensive rebounding percentage is a miserable 15.4 percent. They average 41.9 percent, second-best in the country.

WHAT DUKE HAS TO DO TO WIN: Keep shooting the lights out? It seems oversimplified, but it's true: If Duke keeps getting great looks in their secondary break, they should win this game. They're doing everything else right.

WHAT WEST VIRGINIA HAS TO DO TO WIN: Find a way to get to the glass, and pronto. And figure out a better defense -- perhaps the 1-3-1 -- for picking up Duke's shooters in the half court and making sure they're not getting comfortable looks off screens and step-backs.

College Basketball Live: Final Four

April, 3, 2010
Kevin JonesDavid Butler II/US PresswireThe all-around talent of WVU sophomore Kevin Jones has flown under the radar nationally.
INDIANAPOLIS -- We're less than a day away from the tip of the Final Four, which means the inexorable six-day stretch between NCAA tournament games is nearing its end. You know how it goes: Every April, these six days yield storylines that end up being chewed up and spit out before the teams even have to take the court.

This year, things are even more straightforward than usual. Butler is the "Hoosiers"-esque underdog. Michigan State is another example of Tom Izzo's brilliance. West Virginia's country roads led Bob Huggins home. And Duke, after failing to conquer the Sweet 16 six years in a row, finds itself once again among basketball's elite. These are the stories. They are not up for dispute.

At the risk of being too contrarian, though, it's probably worth throwing a few less-trod things to watch for in Saturday's games, things that have developed over this NCAA tournament that aren't receiving the same level of attention as the aforementioned four. So here are a few others. Four teams. Four storylines. And not the ones you've already heard:

West Virginia: Kevin Jones is awfully good. On Friday, I was asked by one of our chatters in the College Basketball Live chat to give my starting five drawn from players on any of the Final Four teams. My response? Jon Scheyer. Da'Sean Butler. Durrell Summers. Kyle Singler. Gordon Hayward. All worthy candidates, right? Except I happened to leave out one Mr. Kevin Jones, a horrible mistake that was -- of course -- made clear to me by a score of commenters in the Cover It Live window. And why not? Sleeping on Jones in this tournament is a major mistake. Jones is perhaps the Mountaineers' most well-rounded player, a guy who scores, rebounds, has the size to bang inside but can step out and shoot a tidy little 40 percent clip from beyond the arc. Lots of people have talked about Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks, and rightfully so, but Jones deserves more love than this. If he's the difference in a physical, hard-fought game against Duke Saturday afternoon, don't be surprised.

Duke: Is Coach K the greatest of all-time? OK, it's too early to say that yet. But if Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils come out of this weekend's Final Four with Coach K's fourth national championship, it's officially time to start the conversation. Seriously. The Duke haters among us won't like this -- and really, who doesn't like to hate on Duke from time to time? -- but it's true. Let's review the numbers. Over the course of 35 seasons: 868 wins. Eleven Final Fours. Twelve ACC titles. The most NCAA tournament wins of all-time (75) and the best winning percentage in the NCAA tournament of any active coach. Coach K will definitely eclipse former mentor Bob Knight's Division I wins record, which currently sits at 902, and is nearly as likely to notch 1,000 wins -- 1,000 wins! -- before his career his over. If Duke wins this Final Four, this discussion merely accelerates, but win or lose, the point remains: The man is a legend. You don't have to like him. But you should respect him.

[+] EnlargeRaymar Morgan
Scott Rovak/US PresswireMorgan produced a double-double in the regional final, including the game-winning free throw.
Michigan State: Raymar's redemption. For as long as Raymar Morgan has been at Michigan State, we've all been waiting for great things. The kid is as naturally talented as they come -- a muscular 6-foot-8 frame, a reliable jump shot, the athleticism to dominate on the interior. Raymar Morgan should have owned college basketball for a year or two and then moved along to much, much greener pastures. But for whatever reason, Morgan has yet to really dominate at this level. He's good, sure; 11 points and six boards a game are nothing to sniff at. But he's not the sort of player, and he never has been, that can utterly take over a basketball game for long stretches of time. College hoops has never bent to his will. It would be fascinating to see Morgan suddenly find himself in these last two games of the season, complimenting a suddenly brilliant Durrell Summers and leading Michigan State to an unlikely NCAA title. Not necessary, of course. But fascinating all the same.

Butler: Will Gordon stay or will he go? This doesn't exactly qualify as a state secret, but it has been partially obscured by Butler's Cinderella run to its hometown Final Four: Gordon Hayward is the most NBA-ready player left in this tournament. At least that's what the NBA scouts think; Hayward is the only player in the Final Four ranked in the first round of Chad Ford's top 100. Hayward could conceivably come back after this year's run and make a go at the NCAA title next season with a fully loaded Butler squad -- none of the Bulldogs' key players this season are seniors. But Hayward also has to weight the financial considerations. Is it worth staying for another season and risking the chance of an NBA lockout in 2011? Or, more conventionally, a bad senior year that pushes his draft stock down into less lofty territory? That decision might have a lot to do with how Butler performs this weekend. Keep an eye out.