By Jim Jaworski
Many people are calling this one of the best years in a long time for college basketball, and they’re right. No team could hold the No. 1 rank throughout the year and there were upsets aplenty, with almost every game being exciting or showing us some great matchup.
With the national championship game being held tonight, there’s a lot on the line for both teams other than just being the national champion. Butler is looking to be only the second No. 8 seed to win the title; the first was Villanova in 1985. This is the lowest seed that has won a national championship.
UConn is looking to become the first team to win a national championship while going .500 or worse in conference play. UConn was 9-9 in the Big East this year, and lost their final game to Notre Dame. They did not look too promising going into the Big East tournament; they had to play an extra game, because that loss had cost them the opportunity for a bye.
Butler went 13-5 in a weak conference; they looked like they would not match last year’s performance, when they lost to Duke in the final. I picked them to lose to old Dominion in the first round this year; obviously, I was wrong.
Tonight, I’m picking them to lose again, this time to UConn. As much as I would love to see Butler pull it out and give a mid-major conference a national title, I think UConn is too strong. Butler has beaten good teams, but they haven’t played any true powerhouses. They were in what was thought of as the weakest region in the tournament and they beat a good but not great Old Dominion team, and then an overrated Pittsburgh and Florida teams, which should not have been No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. Wisconsin was good, but not traffic.
They beat VCU in the semifinals, putting an end to that team’s Cinderella run, but now they have to play a young, hot team in UConn.
In, the coaching matchup we have two great coaches, which are why I think this will be close. Jim Calhoun is looking for his third national title with UConn. Calhoun is already in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and has won almost every award he could as a college coach. He has over 88 career wins, and this would maybe be a nice end note for him. He took a very young and inconsistent team, and made them turn it on when it counted.
Butler’s coach, Brad Stevens, is very different from Calhoun. He’s young, smart, and calm. He stays composed throughout the game and his players follow his lead. “I want him occasionally to at least cuss or just do something out of line,” Calhoun said in a recent interview. Stevens may be one of the best upcoming young coaches in college basketball – the fact that he has brought a mid-major, non-powerhouse team to consecutive finals seems to prove that point.
My final projection is that Butler will keep it close for a while but, when it comes down to hitting foul shots, UConn will pull out a comfortable lead and win by 7 for a final score of 68-61. Butler will try to keep it a slow-scoring game, but UConn showed against Kentucky that they can win low-scoring games as well as shootouts.
So, UConn wins the national championship, and Butler is the bridesmaid again.