It may not be the national championship that many saw coming. It may not be the national championship that many outside of Storrs, Conn., or Indianapolis wanted to see, either. All of that aside, Monday night's title game between Connecticut and Butler could prove to be a great basketball game.
The battle between UConn and Butler offers a couple of interesting matchups that could play a part in making this year's national championship game just as exciting as last year.
First of all, you have to look at the head coaching matchup. One way to look at things is that the coaching showdown between Jim Calhoun and Brad Stevens pits two coaches who seemingly don't have much in common, a thought largely predicated by their difference in age. Calhoun has spent twice as much time on earth as Stevens as Calhoun is 68 years old and Stevens is 34.
Age differences aside, the two may have more in common that meets the eye. First, they're both great coaches. Calhoun has been proving that for decades, and his third national title would only further prove that. On the Butler side, Stevens has ascended to the game's best young coach in just four years with the Bulldogs. His resume already speaks for itself. He's the first coach to get his team to back-to-back national championships since Billy Donovan's Florida Gators won back-to-back titles in 2005-06 and 2006-07.
While Stevens' start at Butler has been a fast-paced one — he's won 117 games in just four years — his ascent up the coaching ranks at a small school is similar to that of Calhoun. The UConn coach got his start at Northeastern. While the Huskies sat at or near .500 for much of Calhoun's early tenure on Huntington Ave., he was able to elevate the program in his final six seasons there in which he averaged more than 20 wins while advancing to five NCAA tournaments.
Calhoun himself isn't all that sold on the comparisons, though. He acknowledged on Sunday that he does see the similarities, but he was also quick to add that he and Stevens "are completely different people." In all fairness, a 34-year difference in age will do that.
In addition to the coaching matchup, the battle between point guards will be one worth watching as well. The title game will pit two of the country's hottest point guards in UConn's Kemba Walker and Butler's Shelvin Mack. Both are coming off of strong performances in the national semifinals and more often than not, their teams' respective offenses go as they go.
Walker slowly captured the attention of the country as the season progressed, but he's really got a hold of it now after an incredible stretch of basketball. It's a stretch that started with the Big East tournament and he hasn't slowed yet.
Mack, on the other hand, has quietly gone about his business. He was a big part of Butler's national runner-up team last season, but with Gordon Hayward out of the picture, Mack has had to step up even more.
Mack is averaging 23.5 points per contest in his last four games, while Walker averages over 26. They command a ton of attention when they're on the court, and they are responsible for the majority of the offense their teams churn out. It's probably safe to say that whoever plays the more complete game — Walker or Mack — will be cutting down the nets on Monday night.
No. 3 UConn (-3.5) vs. No. 8 Butler
Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX, 9:23 p.m.
One thing to watch: Keep an eye on the rebounding battle. UConn is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, while Butler, well, they aren't. Matt Howard is Butler's leading scorer and leading rebounder, and he'll certainly need to do everything he can to hit the glass with authority. He'll definitely have his hands full as Alex Oriakhi leads a balanced rebounding attack for the Huskies. As balanced as it may be, Oriakhi is always a threat to be a monster on the boards as he had five games this season in which he pulled down 15 boards or more.
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