It’s the match up that very few saw coming. Butler vs. UCONN might not be the game most of us wanted, but if you are a true college basketball fan, this is as about intriguing a game as you can get.
This game has everything. There are two contrasting coaches. You have perhaps the best player in college basketball in Kemba Walker going against a squad that is the epitome of team basketball. Then there is a small school program going up against a national power. This is no David and Goliath story here. Butler is for real.
Making it to the NCAA Men’s Championship game one year and one can say OK, nice story. Make to the Finals two years in a row, and then your program has ascended to a level where you are a force to be reckoned with on an annual basis. They remind me of Georgetown back in the late seventies, a small school, with even a smaller budget, taking out the Big Boys. The next thing you know they were in the Final Four three out of four years.
In UCONN, Jim Calhoun took over the program when Brad Stevens was in grade school and transformed it into perennial national power. But unlike the other squads he brought to his three previous Final Four trips, where he won two titles, this squad will not lose the majority of his team to the NBA next season. Yes, Kemba most likely will be earning seven figures this time next year. However, the rest of the key players will be back for another run at the title. Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith, both freshman, and sophomore Alex Oriakhi have been inserted into the spotlight where they have followed Walker’s lead.
The coaches might end up being the story of this contest before, during, and after the game. You have an old school coach in Jim Calhoun vs. the Next Best Thing in Brad Stevens. Both coaches are among the most respected in their field, although Stevens is half Calhoun’s age. The moves they make during the game might determine who brings home the grand prize. However, the decision both men make after the game might determine their respective programs’ future.
Some feel Stevens might bolt for greener pastures. But if you read between the quotes, the young coach appears to be happy at Butler. He also sounds as if he realizes that the grass might be greener but you still have to mow it, “more money more problems.” And, the majority of his squad should return next year.
Calhoun, on the other hand, might shock a few people should his young Huskies prevail tonight by announcing that he is hanging up the whistle. He has endured one of his more tormenting seasons off the court despite the success they have achieved on the court. He lost his best friend and college roommate, who succumbed to cancer before the season started, and his sister-in-law during the season. Then you had the recruiting scandal that plagued the program all year long. The program was hit with a three-game suspension that will take effect next year, and based on some new allegations that surfaced this weekend, more sanctions might be on the way.
If you are looking for a wide open game similar to the ’83 Louisville-Houston contest, then I suggest you look for something else to watch tonight. But if you are looking for a well-coached, hard-nosed game, then this is your ticket. I’m hoping that Calhoun and Walker will raise the championship trophy tonight, but I will not be shocked if Butler comes through as well. I guarantee you that this will be a good one!