Forget Cinderella; Butler is just good

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Pete DiPrimio
Monday, April 5, 2010
— Mike Krzyzewski ain’t buying the Butler-as-Cinderella storyline. The Duke coach knows the Bulldogs’ background. He’s seen the roster that includes two members of the U.S. gold-medal winning national team, the 25-game winning streak and the tough-minded approach that has broken the likes of Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State.

“Butler is one of the best teams in the country,” Krzyzewski says. “I think Cinderella would be if somebody had eight, nine losses and pulled some upsets. I don’t consider them Cinderella.”

Cinderella doesn’t out-physical the Big Ten’s most physical team (Michigan State’s 52-50 loss to Butler represented the fewest points it has ever totaled in 47 NCAA tourney games under coach Tom Izzo), and thrive when it matters most (the Bulldogs have trailed in the second half in all five of their NCAA tourney wins).

Cinderella doesn’t have a pair of unofficial national titles (in 1924 and ’29, well before the start of the NIT and NCAA events) or go 4-3 against a non-conference run of Northwestern, Minnesota, UCLA, Clemson, Georgetown, Ohio State and Xavier.

Cinderella doesn’t face a national championship opportunity, as Butler (33-4) will in tonight’s season ending showdown against Duke (34-5) at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“They probably had the toughest road (to the Final Four),” Krzyzewski says. “Syracuse is as good as anybody. Kansas State was playing lights out. Those were two great wins for Butler.

“They have accomplished players. They’re an outstanding team who, because Butler hasn’t been to the Final Four, creates that Cinderella thing.”

You might portray Krzyzewski as the (blue) devil, as the Indianapolis Star on Friday did in a quickly pulled photo. You might believe his program deserves to be hated for its relentless winning, better-than-thou confidence and perception of officiating favoritism (”They don’t foul, right John?” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins asked official John Higgins after his best player, Da’Sean Butler, hurt his knee and was called for charge in a collision with Duke center Brian Zoubek Saturday night). You might root for underdog Butler because who couldn’t pull for the feel-good story of the decade, the little team that might.

But forget the good vs. devil hype and consider this—Duke has morphed into scary good. It has won nine straight games. It torched a strong West Virginia defense for 13-for-25 three-point shooting in its 78-57 semifinal win Saturday night. It has shot at least 40 percent from three-point range in four of its five NCAA tourney wins. It is NBA big (one 7-footer, three guys 6-10, three others 6-8). It rebounds relentlessly, defends ferociously. Four of its five tourney opponents have failed to reach 60 points.

“We’ve gotten better throughout the year,” Krzyzewski says. “We got better this week. It’s a really good team and it can do something great (Monday night). That’s what we’re going to try to do.”

The Blue Devils have been led all year by their big three of guards Jon Scheyer (18.2 points, 4.8 assists) and Nolan Smith (17.4 points), and forward Kyle Singler (17.6 points, 6.9 rebounds).

For most of the season, only two of those three played well in the same game. All three dominated against West Virginia (a combined 63 points, 12 rebounds and 17 assists). An added boost came from 7-1, 260-pound center Brian Zoubek (six points, 10 rebounds).

Add Krzyzewski’s Hall of Fame career (867 wins, three national titles, one Olympic gold medal) and you have a team favored by seven points to win its first national championship since 2001.

But this isn’t about history as much as it is opportunity.

“College isn’t about what I’ve done before,” Krzyzewski says. “It’s about what (these players) are doing right now.

“We’re all into the moment of their moment. These kids can’t identify with a fourth national championship, but they can identify with a group going for their first and only one.”

Pete DiPrimio writes for The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.).

Last updated: 2:09 pm Thursday, December 20, 2012

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