College Basketball Nation: 2010 Final Four

DukeBob Donnan/US PresswireMike Krzyzewski's four national championships ties him for second on the all-time list.
INDIANAPOLIS -- After a coaching career that has spanned more than three decades, and includes multiple national championships and an Olympic gold medal, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski had nothing left to prove in Monday night's national championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

But Coach K once again showed what we learned a long time ago: There aren't many coaches better than him, regardless of the sport.

Krzyzewski won his fourth national championship after the Blue Devils defeated Butler 61-59 in one of the more epic finals of all-time.

The first three titles came much easier than this one, as the upstart Bulldogs had two chances to win the game in the final seconds. When Butler star Gordon Hayward's final half-court heave bounced off the rim, Coach K cemented his place among college basketball's greatest coaches.

If there was an expanded Mount Rushmore for college basketball, Krzyzewski's face would be next to those of UCLA's John Wooden, North Carolina's Dean Smith, Kentucky's Adolph Rupp and Indiana's Bob Knight.

"I've been fortunate enough to be in eight national championship games, and this was a classic," Krzyzewski said afterward. "This was the toughest and the best one."

This championship season might have been Krzyzewski's best coaching job. Two years after he led the U.S. Olympics team to a gold medal in Beijing, he guided a Blue Devils team short on depth and frontcourt stardom to a 35-5 record and a share of the ACC regular-season championship. Duke won 18 of its final 19 games and took home the league tournament title.

Then there was the biggest title of them all. After guiding Duke to its first national championship since 2001, Krzyzewski joined a very select few in college basketball history:

  • [+] EnlargeCoach K
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAll things considered, this year's Duke team might have been Krzyzewski's best coaching job.
    His four national championships tie him for second with Rupp. Only Wooden won more national titles, winning 10 at UCLA from 1964-75.
  • His 11 Final Four appearances are tied with Smith for second-most among coaches. Wooden guided UCLA teams to 12 Final Fours.
  • He has coached in 19 Final Four games, tied with Smith for second-most, and his 12 Final Four wins are second only to Wooden's 21 victories.
  • He holds the NCAA tournament record for winning percentage (.778, 77-22) and is first in tourney history with 77 victories and 99 games coached.
  • He is the first coach to win national championships in three consecutive decades (1991, '92, '01 and '10).
  • Under his guidance, Duke has played more games ranked as the No. 1 team (190) than it has as an unranked team (144).
  • At some point in the next two seasons, Krzyzewski will probably surpass Knight as major college basketball's winningest coach. His 868 career victories are 34 behind Knight, his coach at the United States Military Academy from 1966 to '69.

But after guiding Duke to another national championship, Krzyzewski wasn't ready to reflect on his accomplishments.

"Tonight is not about that," he said. "That's like 10 years from now or whatever. Tonight is all about these guys."

Krzyzewski's team probably wasn't the most talented in the NCAA tournament. No. 1 seeds like Kansas and Kentucky had more NBA-ready players.

But the Blue Devils were the team cutting down the nets at season's end.

"It's hard, you know?" Krzyzewski said. "I've said throughout the year they were good, then they were really good, then they were really good with great character. Before coming to the press conference, I told our team that. It's because we always wanted to keep them chasing something. But I told them before we came here and before we said a prayer, 'You are a great team. You are a great team.'"

As told by a great coach.

It was nearly the greatest...

April, 6, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS -- You thought it was going in, didn't you?

I did. From my angle on press row, I thought when Butler's Gordon Hayward rushed up the right sideline with the ball, and teammate Matt Howard leveled Duke's Kyle Singler with a crushing blind-side screen, and Hayward suddenly was clear at midcourt and went off his left foot and extended his right arm and sent that prayer arcing through the Lucas Oil Stadium air toward the hoop ...

... I thought it was in.


Duke won this one the Butler way

April, 6, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS -- The national title game may be remembered for Gordon Hayward's near-miss from halfcourt that could have made Butler the most dramatic story in the sport.

But it didn't go in. Duke 61, Butler 59.

So we are left to decide how to put Duke latest national title in perspective after it really wasn't expected at any point this season prior to arriving at the Final Four.

If you're looking for a moment to define this team, the least publicized perhaps of any previous Duke champion, it might come down to a rebound off Hayward's first attempt to win the game with 3.6 seconds left and Butler down 60-59.


How Duke did it

April, 6, 2010
Jon ScheyerJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJon Scheyer and the Blue Devils were jumping for joy after winning Duke's fourth national championship. The Blue Devils beat Butler 61-59 in a classic title game.
INDIANAPOLIS -- After his players left the podium at Monday night's postgame press conference, Mike Krzyzewski reflected on what he'd just seen.

"The game was so good that anybody could have won," he said of the Duke's 61-59 victory. "I don't think we were lucky to win because we earned it. But there is something ..."

Krzyzewski trailed off, took a second, and began to speak again.

"I think we won because of these guys," he said. "And as good as the Butler story is, was, and will be, our story is pretty good too."

You have to hand it to him. When the man's right, he's right.

Duke's story is good. That goes for the off-the-court stuff Coach K was referring to, of course -- the success of players who aren't likely to make much money playing basketball at the next level, but who represent the Platonic ideal of smart, veteran college hoopsters. That also goes for the special relationship Coach K shared with his players, for Coach K's legacy, for the redemption story of Brian Zoubek, who spent two summers on crutches before making the key plays in the final seconds of a classic national championship game.

But just as interesting as all that is the way this Duke team developed on the floor throughout the season -- most noticeably in the ACC and NCAA tournaments. We shouldn't be surprised the Blue Devils won the title. They were this good. Here's why:

[+] EnlargeBrian Zoubek
Bob Donnan/US PresswireZoubek's offensive rebounds were key to Duke's win.
Offensive rebounding. This is the stat that pushed Duke over the top, morphing an already good offense into a brutally efficient one in March and April. Duke was the sixth-most effective team in the country at rebounding its own misses over the course of the season, and at 16.8 second-chance points per game, the Blue Devils were the best team in the NCAA tournament at converting those rebounds into points (stat courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information). In the first half of Monday night's game, Duke didn't get to the offensive boards, grabbing only 20 percent of its misses. But in the second half, the Devils grabbed eight offensive rebounds, good for 47.1 percent, and subsequently scored eight points. It was a fitting end to Duke's tournament run. The Blue Devils won with offensive rebounding yet again.

Offense in general, actually. Duke scored 1.24 points per possession this season, a potency that showed up in the Blue Devils' torrid performance against West Virginia on Saturday night. It wasn't evident on Monday -- Butler's defense held Duke to its third-lowest point total of the year and a mere 1.0 points per possession, an OK tally for an average team but a Saharan drought in comparison to the Blue Devils' usual rainmaking. But there is no discussing this Duke team without reiterating just how good they were on offense all season long. Rebounding and all, offense got the Dukies here. And then ...

Interior defense. Duke was probably a little underrated on the defensive side of the ball for much of the season. Maybe it was hard to see this team's defensive quality in comparison to that offensive juggernaut. Maybe it was because these Blue Devils didn't have a signature defender like the vintage Duke teams of the past. But this group finished the season with the No. 3 most efficient defense in the country, and it was interior defense that won the game for Duke on Monday night. Butler had, count 'em, 11 missed layups in its loss. Duke had seven blocks in its win. Zoubek, Kyle Singler, Lance Thomas and even the Plumlees made everything difficult for Butler when it got into the paint, which helped lead to an eight-minute stretch in the second half when Butler was held without a field goal.

Brian Zoubek. Two questions: Does Duke win this national title without Zoubek? And, four months ago, if I had told you that I'd be writing that question from deep within the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, would you have believed me? No and no. But it's true: Zoubek's sudden transformation from a disappointing, lumbering big man into an interior terror -- especially on the offensive glass -- turned Duke from a good team with a vague chance of postseason success into a thoroughly dominating one. Zoubek did it again Monday night. He grabbed six offensive rebounds in the game, four of which came at key moments in the second half. Zoubek gave the Dukies the kind of size and interior presence most programs only dream of, the kind of ability he promised when he first arrived in Durham. Four years and two foot surgeries later, Zoubek just made me write the first two questions in this paragraph. Here's a third: How crazy is that?

Of course the big three of Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith deserve most of the credit; they provided the backbone for what this team would accomplish. But Zoubek was the X-factor. He made Duke a different team. He rewrote his story -- and his team's -- in the process.

"It means a lot to me," Zoubek said. "It's really hard to imagine being in this position when you spend two summers on crutches. People told me to keep fighting. It's hard to believe sometimes that good things are going to happen."

They did.

OK, so Duke's story doesn't have the appeal of Butler's. But whose does? Coach K's right. This team -- and its story -- were pretty darn good, too.

Photoblog: Devils have reason to dance

April, 6, 2010
Brian ZoubekAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesBrian Zoubek reacts with teammates -- and the Duke mascot -- after winning the national title.

Singler leading Duke in second half

April, 5, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS -- Quick thoughts with Duke ahead 53-49 over Butler with 7:58 left in the game.

  • Kyle Singler is playing an MVP type of game with his ability to make big shots and come up with key defensive stops.
  • Butler gambled and went small and it cost the Bulldogs on an inbouds play that Singler converted, using his size advantage. There have been some odd matchups like Willie Veasley on Brian Zoubek.
  • Butler is in jeopardy of losing control here. Butler has been forcing turnovers and coming up with stops, but hasn’t finished consistently.
  • Hard to see Butler winning if Gordon Hayward can’t make a few big shots. He is driving to to the basket, but that’s not enough.
  • Duke is earning every bucket, but the Blue Devils’ offense has been enough to stretch out a lead.

Photoblog: Reaching back

April, 5, 2010
Kyle SinglerAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillKyle Singler and Duke held a 33-32 lead at halftime of the national title game.

Halftime: Duke 33, Butler 32

April, 5, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS -- Quick thoughts at the half.

  • Tremendous. Loved it. I was hoping we would have a first half just like that.
  • What I loved was seeing players like Avery Jukes that weren’t supposed to shine, come out of nowhere to be a major factor. Who had Jukes making two 3s? Jukes led the Bulldogs with 10 points. No way did anyone have that on the early scorecard.
  • Zach Hahn played sensational off the bench as he distributed, came up with a deflection and had great stage presence.
  • Duke's big three had their moments as expected, with Kyle Singler scoring nine points by making big buckets at the right times. Nolan Smith, as he has all season, bailed out a few possessions, and Jon Scheyer scored in the mid-range.
  • The Bulldogs were down one at the half and Gordon Hayward scored only four points and was 2-of-7. He did have seven rebounds, though.
  • No one had Butler getting 12 offensive rebounds with Duke having only three and outrebounding Duke 24-17.
  • The crowd has been sensational so far. Just hope they can stay in the game and we get a final-possession-type affair.
  • Butler has to believe now it can win.

Butler hanging with Duke

April, 5, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS -- Quick thoughts from the first half of Duke-Butler.

  • Butler held a 20-18 lead with 7:54 left in the first half.
  • The crowd is pro-Butler, much more so than Saturday night. So far I’d give this an A for atmosphere. It has lived up to the hype of having a homecourt advantage.
  • Both teams are playing defense at a high level. You can’t fault the defense when Kyle Singler and Zach Hahn make deep 3-pointers.
  • Love how aggressive Matt Howard was in trying to score, draw fouls and get rebounds. But he really struggled to finish at the hoop and at the free-throw line.
  • Shelvin Mack is one of the elite guards in the country. We should have all seen that when he played for a gold medal last summer for the Under-19 USA team. Mack took over the game for a few possessions to rescue Butler from getting too far behind.
  • Lance Thomas got into early foul trouble with two. That’s OK since Duke’s depth inside is its best.
  • We can only hope it stays close for the final 32 minutes.
INDIANAPOLIS -- If you can't be inside Lucas Oil Stadium to watch Butler's Gordon Hayward make jump shots tonight, you might as well be in the next-best place: Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Bulldogs' home court and the famous gym where Jimmy Chitwood sank a jumper to win a mythical championship in the Hollywood film "Hoosiers."

[+] EnlargeHinkle Fieldhouse
Mark Schlabach for ESPN.comFour screens have been set up in Hinkle Fieldhouse to watch tonight's title game.
That's where thousands of Butler fans are tonight to watch the Bulldogs play mighty Duke for college basketball's national championship.

According to Butler officials, more than 12,000 fans were here Saturday night to watch Butler defeat Michigan State 52-50 in the national semifinals of the NCAA tournament. The gym holds only 10,000 fans, so it was standing-room only.

About a half-hour before tip-off on Monday night, the lower bowl of Hinkle Fieldhouse was nearly filled with fans. Hundreds of fans were still filing in to watch tonight's game on four large projection TVs, which have been placed on both sides of the playing court.

"The atmosphere is the most fun," said Kyle Wernke, a junior from Fishers, Ind.

Wernke said he attended two classes on Monday, but apparently many Butler students skipped their classes.

"It was pretty crazy," Wernke said. "I was trying to drive around campus and you really couldn't go anywhere. People were out in the streets and partying and having an awesome time."

It figures to be one heck of a party here tonight, too, especially if the Bulldogs can upset the Blue Devils. The crowd cheered loudly when a local TV newscast broadcast stories about Hayward and Butler guard Ronald Nored. They even cheered when former NBA star Larry Bird and Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell were shown on the screens.

Surprisingly, the crowd didn't boo when Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was shown.

Just a few minutes ago, more than a few hundred jaws dropped when a local TV reporter announced tickets were being sold for as little as $20 outside Lucas Oil Stadium. In fact, one couple grabbed their bags and headed for the exits.
Butler v Duke Getty Images Gordon Hayward and Butler will meet Nolan Smith and Duke in Monday's title game.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Our Final Four has been pared down to a final two, and as storylines go, this one couldn't be much better. Duke, the disliked powerhouse. Butler, the real-life "Hoosiers," playing in its hometown, winning one for all the little schools that never had a chance. In the next few days, you're going to hear plenty about what this game means, the implications for college basketball, and what it says about our sport if -- gasp -- Butler actually upsets Duke. (And yes, after tonight's two games, a Butler win would definitely be an upset.)

But for the Bulldogs to do that, they have to take care of business on the court, where things are much more difficult than a made-for-Gene Hackman script belies. So, in the spirit of staying grounded amidst the reverie, here are a few quick preliminary on-court things worth keeping in mind:

1. Butler's defense is great. But is it great enough? The most impressive unit in the entire NCAA tournament has been Butler's D. The Bulldogs are the first team since the 1985 Villanova Wildcats -- how's that for bringing things full circle? -- to hold five straight opposing NCAA tournament offenses to 60 points or less. That Butler's defense has owned this tournament like no other team is not up for dispute. Or it wasn't, anyway, until the Duke Blue Devils utterly steamrolled West Virginia's defense on Saturday night. Duke scored just under 1.45 points per possession against a team ranked 10th in the country in defensive efficiency, one that allowed its opponents a mere .88 points per trip throughout the 2009-10 season. To witness this mastery was to think that finally, perhaps, Butler will meet its match. Syracuse and Kansas State, two of the best offenses in the country, looked like high school teams compared to what Duke did to West Virginia on Saturday. If Butler fans got an ominous feeling during their postgame celebration, you can forgive them.

2. Who matches up with Gordon Hayward? Duke is as variable a team as there is in college basketball. The Blue Devils have gotten a bad rap for being unathletic this season, but they just manhandled a very athletic team that managed to contain the Kentucky Wildcats no more than a week ago. Athleticism isn't an issue. Matching up with Hayward is. Kyle Singler is the best bet, and that should be a brilliant little one-on-one battle. Whoever guards Hayward, you can expect Coach K's strategy to involve a lot of help defense, plenty of double-teams, and an ethos of harassment unlike anything Hayward has seen this season. It will be fascinating to watch this play out.

3. Speaking of which, how does Butler match up with Duke's Big Three? Saturday night, Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith combined for 63 points, 17 assists, 12 rebounds and 12-of-23 from behind the arc. They scored 63 of the Duke’s 78 points, which was -- get this -- six more than West Virginia’s entire team. So, yeah, you could say that stopping Duke's trio is absolutely crucial. Good news here, actually: Butler has the players to do just that. Ronald Nored, Shelvin Mack and Shawn Vanzant have shut down elite guard combos in this tournament before. As mentioned above, Hayward is as close to a perfect matchup with Singler as any player in the country. And if you can harass Scheyer and Smith into passing up shots and keep Singler from blowing up too much, you force Duke's periphery guys to beat you. That proposition looks far less daunting.

4. Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. If it's been the statistical story of this tournament, it could also end up being the story of the national title game: rebounding. Duke has morphed into a vicious offensive rebounding squad, currently the sixth-best offensive rebounding percentage team in the country. Butler, meanwhile, held Michigan State -- a top-10 offensive rebounding percentage team itself, remember -- to six offensive rebounds in its win Saturday night. The Blue Devils won't face much pressure on their own glass; Butler is more than happy retreating from the offensive glass and setting up its half-court defense as soon as possible. But at Butler's end, the outcome could be decided by how well the Bulldogs can keep a much bigger, stronger Duke team off the offensive glass. No one's managed to do it yet.

5. Will Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard play? And, you know, play well? Butler guard Shelvin Mack left Saturday's game with dehydration. Butler center Matt Howard left with a minor concussion. The Bulldogs were forced to gut out a win without two of their best, most important players; that they did so remains remarkable. But it's hard -- OK, it's impossible -- to envision a Mack- and Howard-less Butler squad beating the Duke team yours truly keeps emphatically, almost embarrassingly raving about. (It's like I just saw the Mona Lisa get up out of her chair and hit 13 3-pointers against one of the country's best defenses. At times, it felt kind of like that.) Mack needs to get those fluids going -- push the electrolytes, kid -- while Butler needs to hope Howard can tell you his address by Monday evening. Bank on both of them playing. Whether they play well is a different story.

One important corollary here: Howard would do well to stay on the floor a bit longer. Sure, Butler keeps proving it can win without its center, who, thanks to foul trouble, has played four minutes in each of Butler's last two first halves. But Howard has to stay on the floor Monday night if Butler plans on keeping Brian Zoubek and company off the boards.

There will be plenty more to dissect and analyze in the next day or so, but for now, keep an eye out. Monday night's game -- and whether we get a finale worthy of this magnificent setup -- could ride on any, or all five, of the above.

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.

Photoblog: They're back

April, 4, 2010
Mike KrzyzewskiAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesDuke coach Mike Krzyzewski has directed his Blue Devils to their first berth in the national title game since 2001. Coach K is 3-4 in title games with championships in 1991, 1992 and 2001.
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.’’