In case you were curious, here were the four factors for last night's Duke/Butler NCAA tournament finale.
This gives you an idea of just how close this game truly was. Duke shot better; but that was ultimately negated by their 20% turnover rate. Butler, meanwhile, avoided turnovers as well as you'd expect them to. Last night's game was pretty darn clean, overall: 20 total turnovers between both teams. I heard the normally CougCenter-approved Ian Furness on KJR say that neither of these teams passed the "eye test", which is to say that neither club looked like a National Championship team in the finale. I completely disagree: these were two teams that consistently valued defense, protected the ball and fought like gladiators on the boards. The fact that neither team truly broke the other - neither team got a lead larger than eight the whole night - shows you just how impeccable the execution was, by both teams, on the biggest stage.
The most stunning thing is that Butler - normally a team that sacrifices offensive boards in favor of transition defense - matched Duke stride for stride in offensive rebounding. If you had told me they'd do that before the game started I would have guaranteed you a Bulldog national championship. As it was, the Duke defense made up for this by weakening Butler's shooting prowess (especially inside the arc) and holding them to a Bennett-style field goal drought for much of the final ten minutes. Make all the what-ifs you want about Heyward's final two shots; if the Bulldogs could've hit any sort of field goal during that stretch, what we're all talking about now may have been a moot point.
I don't know about you, but by the end of the game I felt two things. The first, obviously, was heartbreak for Butler, who could've actually done the whole "shock the world" thing most players from lower seeds say they're going to do at the start of the tournament. The second - and it pains me to say it - is that I missed Bennett Ball. Butler plays at a rate of about 67 possessions - roughly the same as the Sweet Sixteen Cougs - and only had 64 last night. However, it's not just the speed of the game that made me nostagic, it was the defensive philosophy. Butler denies virtually any transition opportunity, and when they're set on D they control the glass and prevent second chance opportunities. They play tough man-to-man defense. On offense, they choose their shots carefully (or get to the line), knowing they probably won't get another chance off an offensive board.
If it sounds familiar, it's because it's hardly foreign in Big Ten country. This was the way the Cougs used to play, and they played it pretty darn well. It's such a shame one of the few televised games this season was the UCLA meltdown - where the Cougs played by far their most undisciplined and frustrating defense of the season. I imagine it's one of the many reasons the anti-Bone crowd exists, and is so set in their ways. Still, it's not fair to throw Bone under the bus without giving him a chance. Things wouldn't have turned out so well had Dick Bennett been shown the door after the 81-29 loss to Oklahoma State. We had the option to keep playing Bennett Ball after that fateful day a year ago; either with Ben Johnson or another coach with a similar system. Sterk didn't go that route (although we kept Ben Johnson on staff), and we almost unanimously as a fan base agreed Ken Bone was the best man available. We don't know if he'll work out long term, but then again we didn't know Bennett Ball would either. So, we wait, and continue to cheer our guys on.
Here's hoping we're Butler in 2012.