NCAA Basketball Column: Jump Ball
March Madness Finale
The final dance is here and who would have predicted whod' be on the floor for the championship game Monday night?
Butler's return to the final without last year's star. Gordon Hayward won't play but Butler has played impressive team basketball, led by the duo of Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. The team needs both players to show up in a big way or its dreams of winning a national title are toast.
In the post, UConn doesn't have a got to weapon like Howard, but Alex Oriakhi can hold his own. However, on the defensive side of the ball, Oriakhi is the better player, providing a shot blocking presence and is a vacuum on the boards. Howard's game won't translate to the NBA, but he's a star in the NBA due to his basketball acumen. Mack has been a solid guard all season for Butler, and the heart and soul of the team.
He must have another great scoring night because he will be up against the best player in the league for the past few weeks, Kemba Walker. In order for Butler to win, Mack must out produce Walker because UConn has better depth, but not by much. Beyond those key players, the X-factor here is freshman Jeremy Lamb. This guy has NBA talent, and reminds me of Tayshaun Prince. He is a solid scorer is 6'5 with a ridiculous 7'4 wing span! Add to the fact reports have his vertical listed as 50 inches and you have a dangerous talent on your hands. While he doesn't have Prince's height, his wing span makes up for it. They are both scorers that can create offense through his defensive play. Another similarity to Prince is that they are both bean poles. Lamb must add muscle or he is going to be tossed around like a rag doll. I wouldn't expect him to make the jump this summer, but he has an excellent future ahead of him.
The head coaching match up is intriguing as well. Head coach Jim Calhoun has been running the Huskies basketball program for 25 years now, and his teams are usually always contenders due to his coaching, good recruiting and great preparation. On the flip side, Butler's 34 year old head coach Brad Stevens already has four years of head coaching experience and has coached his way to his second straight March Madness Final.
Stevens coaching style is also analyzing his opponents to the max and then preparing the Bulldogs as best he can. He preaches defense and team basketball, but those must be his goals while coaching at a small market school because the big offensive stars won' come out to a tiny school in Indiana when they can go play for UNC, Kansas or Kentucky. No doubt there will be NBA teams lined up out his door for his services, but will he go coach with the big boys? Or will he become a figure head of a program like his opponent Calhoun, Michigan State's Tom Izzo and UNC's Roy Williams. Only time will tell for the young bench boss, but he is a rising star in the coaching ranks.
While Butler winning would be a nice story, this is Walker's year, and he is going to cap off his tenure at Uconn as a national champion.
Email Matt McCloskey at: email@example.com.
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