Throughout the course of this game, I asked myself several questions.
The most frequent questions were: are these the two worst teams to play each other for a national championship in recent memory? and is this the worst national championship game ever?
The short answer: no, and no. Which goes directly against the argument I thought I would make.
Butler shot 18.8%. That’s nauseating. But at least the game was close. Watching UNC slaughter Michigan St. in 2009 was a much more boring game.
But if future NBA players are any indication of the quality of the teams, it probably won’t go down as the worst. The 2002 championship game when Maryland beat Indiana was awful. The best NBA players from those teams? Chris Wilcox, Steve Blake, and Jared Jeffries. Now that’s nauseating. I expect Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and Shelvin Mack to be better pros. But I also could be wrong, so who knows, maybe someday this group will be as undistinguished as the former.
As far as defensive battles go, this game was entertaining enough. It was the classic case of two teams who weren’t good enough to win on talent alone, but–coached by two of the best in the game–were convinced that if they put maximum effort in on the defensive end, they could shut down the other team and minimize the amount of points their decrepit offenses needed to score.
Defensive battle can be fun for diehards, but the national championship is supposed to be the game that even the non-fans want to watch. Non-fans don’t want to watch a defensive showdown. And dedicated fans don’t want to watch a championship featuring two teams that aren’t good enough to score.
Watching last night, it was a simple fact: Butler was not good enough to score on UConn’s great defense, and their path to the championship game shouldn’t have convinced anyone otherwise.
They barely eked by Old Dominion, they beat Pitt because Shelvin Mack was on fire, going 7-12 from 3, and scoring 30 points, they also managed to get 15 pts out of Matt Howard. Against Wisconsin, they met their clone, another team that plays ugly defensive minded basketball. I honestly have no idea how they beat Florida, and then they were fortunate to play VCU in the Final Four, who couldn’t maintain their torrid three-point shooting.
As for UConn, their season can be summed up by two plays. Here: http://www.bigeast.org/BIGEASTTV/OnDemandFREE/TabId/367/VideoId/12782/19-UConn-69–14-Louisville-66-Highlights-Courtesy-ESPN.aspx (Go to the 4:30 mark in the video. It won’t allow me to embed it.)
The video shows Kemba Walker at the end of the Big East championship against Louisville. He splits two defenders, drives, and drops it off to Lamb who lays it in to put UConn ahead by one. Then on Louisville’s inbound pass, Lamb tips it and Napier recovers.
UConn’s season was defined by Walker dominating, and when he wasn’t dominating he at least drew all the attention away from his teammates, and they–usually Lamb–stepped up enough to win games.
Not exactly the recipe for a championship team.
Most other years, UConn would not have won the championship, but they did, and they beat some very good basketball teams along the way, including the team with the best player in the country (Arizona with Derrick Williams).
So the championship is theirs, regardless of how ugly it was.
Other questions that cross my mind:
How much is Gordon Hayward regretting leaving Butler right now?
Hayward undoubtedly left under the assumption that his stock would never be higher. No one thought Butler would ever return to this game. But imagine if Hayward had believed otherwise, and had returned to lead them to a championship? If Hayward were on the court last night he would have been the best player out there, and likely could have been the difference, and he’d be a top-5 pick in a very weak draft, instead of playing for the Utah Jazz. Hayward was likely jacked up to be drafted by a perennial contender like Utah, but the Jazz have collapsed after trading Deron Williams. But then again, Hayward just started his first game and scored 19 points. So life could be worse.
Does the quality of the NCAA tournament predict the quality of the next draft class?
If the 2002 NCAA tournament–the worst in recent memory–and the 2003 and 2007 tournaments–the best in recent memory–, are any indication, then yes.
The 2002 draft class produced Yao Ming, Amar’e Stoudemire, Caron Butler, Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince, and Luis Scola.
The 2003 draft class (not really a fair comparison since this might be the best draft ever) produced LeBron, Carmelo, Bosh, Wade, David West, Boris Diaw, Kendrick Perkins, Josh Howard, Leandro Barbosa, and Mo Williams.
2007 had Durant, Horford, Noah, Conley, Jeff Green, Thaddeus Young, Al Thornton, Rodney Stuckey, Jared Dudley, Wilson Chandler, Aaron Brooks, Aaron Afflalo, Carl Landry, Glen Davis, and Marc Gasol.
Out of these players, in the 2002 draft class, only three players played college basketball. In 2003, six did, but Carmelo and Wade really made that tournament. Wade was hardly known until he took Marquette to the Final Four.
The 2007–probably the best tournament–not surprisingly was loaded with prominent NCAA players, 14 of the 15 players listed were in college basketball that year. Horford, Noah, Conley, Green, and Afflalo played in the Final Four. Afflalo, at UCLA, was accompanied by future NBAer’s Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison, while Jeff Green played with Roy Hibbert at Georgetown.
This article (http://18.104.22.168/vault/article/web/COM1183687/index.htm) suggests scouts ignore the tournament. But maybe they shouldn’t when it’s known to be deep in talent, because success in 2003 and 2007 predicted future success in the pros.
Should Brad Stevens leave Butler?
I wish I could say he should stay, but the fact is, top recruits only play for teams in major conferences. So, if Stevens wants to compete on the national stage every year, he has to go to a team in the Big 10, Big East, Big 12, ACC, PAC 10, or SEC. Butler has done well, getting to the championship game the past two years, but in the three years prior, they went to the sweet 16 once, to the second round once, and got knocked out in the first round once. Maybe Stevens can transform Butler into another Gonzaga, but Gonzaga is still known as a perpetual under-dog, and Stevens can do far better than that.