Conference: Big East
Date: Monday, April 4
Time: 9:23 pm Eastern
Location: Houston, TX
Connecticut is on one of the great late-season runs in NCAA history; Butler has made an amazing run to the finals two years in a row.
Team Comparisons with SportsRatings Statistics
Strength: #15 Strength: #40
Neutral court: #15 Neutral court: #39
Consistency: #144 Consistency: #304
Tempo-free: #14 Tempo-free: #40
Offense: #17 Offense: #35
Defense: #22 Defense: #66
2nd half of season: #8 2nd half of season: #39
NCAA Tournament: #1 NCAA Tournament: #19
01 W Stony Brook 79-52 15 W Rutgers 67-53 29 L@West Virginia 65-56
02 W Vermont 89-73 16 W@DePaul 82-62 30 L Notre Dame 70-67
03 W=Wichita St. 83-79 17 W Villanova 61-59 31 W=DePaul 97-71
04 W=Michigan St. 70-67 18 W Tennessee 72-61 32 W=Georgetown 79-62
05 W=Kentucky 84-67 19 W@Marquette 76-68 33 W=Pittsburgh 76-74
06 W New Hampshire 62-55 20 L Louisville 79-78OT2 34 W=Syracuse 76-71OT
07 W MD Baltimore Ct 94-61 21 L Syracuse 66-58 35 W=Louisville 69-66
08 W Fair. Dickinson 78-54 22 W Seton Hall 61-59 36 W=Bucknell 81-52
09 W Coppin St. 76-64 23 L@St. John's 89-72 37 W=Cincinnati 69-58
10 W Harvard 81-52 24 W Providence 75-57 38 W@San Diego St. 74-67
11 L@Pittsburgh 78-63 25 W Georgetown 78-70 39 W=Arizona 65-53
12 W South Florida 66-61OT 26 L@Louisville 71-58 40 W=Kentucky 56-55
13 L@Notre Dame 73-70 27 L Marquette 74+67OT
14 W@Texas 82-81OT 28 W@Cincinnati 67-59
- Wins vs. tournament teams (17): =Michigan St.+3, =Kentucky+17, @Texas+OT, Villanova+2, Tennessee+11, @Marquette+8, Georgetown+8, @Cincinnati+8, =Georgetown+17, =Pittsburgh+2, =Syracuse+OT, =Louisville+3, =Bucknell+29, =Cincinnati+11, @San Diego St.+7, =Arizona+2, =Kentucky+1
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen teams (5): =Kentucky+17, @Marquette+8, @San Diego St. +7, =Arizona+2, =Kentucky+1
- Wins vs. Final Four teams (2): =Kentucky+17, =Kentucky+1
- Losses to tournament teams (9): @Pittsburgh-15, @Notre Dame-3, Louisville-OT, Syracuse-8, @St. John's-17, @Louisville-13, Marquette-OT, @West Virginia-9, Notre Dame-3
- Other losses (0):none
Key Info: When Connecticut completed its sweep of 5 games in 5 days to win the Big East tournament, some asked the question: Was this harder than winning the NCAA tournament? It's a fair question, too. UConn beat Depaul, Georgetown, Pitt, Syracuse, and Louisville; the last four got a 6, 1, 3, and 4 seed, so if we give DePaul a 14, that's the path a 3-seed might take winning in the Round of 64, 32, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four. So UConn essentially made it to the NCAA finals in 5 days, then did the real thing over the course of the next two weeks.
Much of the credit can go to Kemba Walker, a Player of the Year candidate who stepped it up big in the conference tournament, averaging 26 points per game over the stretch. How far UConn goes is largely up to him; it's dangerous for a team but also rewarding to rely on one star player so much, but the Huskies have other talent obviously. It's just that Walker's star shines so much brighter you might not see them. Walker led with 18 against Bucknell, 33 against Cincinnati, 36 vs. San Diego State, 20 against Arizona, and 18 against Kentucky. If he leads the Huskies to win Monday, some will argue he is UConn's best player ever.
01 W Marian 83-54 14 W Valparaiso 76-59 27 W Detroit 66-51
02 L@Louisville 88-73 15 L@Wisc. Milwaukee 76-52 28 W@Wisc. Green Bay 64-62
03 W Ball St. 88-55 16 W Cleveland St. 79-56 29 W@Ill. Chicago 79-52
04 W@Siena 70-57 17 W Youngstown St. 84-79 30 W Loyola Chicago 63-56
05 L Evansville 71-68OT 18 W@Detroit 87-64 31 W=Cleveland St. 76-68
06 W@Loyola Chicago 65-63 19 L@Wright St. 69-64 32 W Wisc. Milwaukee 59-44
07 L=Duke 82-70 20 W Wisc. Green Bay 81-75 33 W=Old Dominion 60-58
08 L@Xavier 51-49 21 L Wisc. Milwaukee 86-80OT 34 W=Pittsburgh 71-70
09 W Miss. Valley 91-71 22 L@Valparaiso 85-79OT 35 W=Wisconsin 61-54
10 W Stanford 83-50 23 L@Youngstown St. 62-60 36 W=Florida 74-71OT
11 W=Utah 74-62 24 W@Cleveland St. 73-61 37 W=VCU 70-62
12 W=Florida St. 67-64 25 W Ill. Chicago 72-65
13 W=Washington St. 84-68 26 W Wright St. 71-63
- Wins vs. tournament teams (6): =Florida St.+3, =Old Dominion+2, =Pittsburgh+1, =Wisconsin+7, =Florida+OT, =Virginia Commonwealth+8
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen teams (4): =Florida St.+3, =Wisconsin+7, =Florida+OT, =Virginia Commonwealth+8
- Wins vs. Final Four teams (1): =Virginia Commonwealth+8
- Losses to tournament teams (3): @Louisville-15, =Duke-12, @Xavier-2
- Other losses (6): Evansville-OT, @Wisconsin Milwaukee-24, @Wright St.-5, Wisconsin Milwaukee-OT, @Valparaiso-OT, @Youngstown St.-2
Key Info: Looking at Butler's year, the early season had more peaks, the middle had some problems, and the later season—up to their Elite Eight run—has been better again. Another interesting stat is their Consistency rank of #316; we've been doubting the Bulldogs can return to the title game this year, but we've also said that if their variance is on the upside they could upset some better teams. Pitt, Wisconsin, and Florida found that out. They beat lower-seeded VCU, and now they take on Connecticut.
The team is clearly not as good as last year's model, mainly for the loss of Gordon Hayward, but that didn't matter—the Bulldogs willed their way to the finals, just like they did last season. Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack have been just as good as they were on the Bulldogs' NCAA runner-up squad; Mack had 30 against Pitt, and Howard had 20 points and 12 rebounds against Wisconsin. In the Florida and VCU wins Mack had 27 and 24.
Game Analysis: Both teams are on incredible runs. That's a given for the NCAA tournament finalists, of course; every team is guaranteed to be on at least a 5-game winning streak. But these teams are special.
Connecticut got a spark during the Big East tournament were they won 5 games in 5 days over NCAA tournament-level competition, and that run has extended all the way to the tournament finals. Butler is on a 14-game winning streak that's more impressive given that they did the same thing last year. Making the finals once is hard enough, but to do it in back-to-back years—both times with teams that had no business being past the Sweet Sixteen—makes you think there is something to teams that just "know how to win" in the tournament.
UConn by 3 1/2
Power rating spread
All games Last 5 games 10 games 14 games
UConn by 4.5 7.1 7.7 6.3
% Chance to win
Connecticut, being the better team on paper, is the favorite. In all time periods tested—full season, tournament play, during UConn's win streak, and during Butler's—the Huskies test out ahead. Vegas gives Butler some credit for their remarkable tourney performance the last few years.
Bottom line: One team's magic will end, the other will see it go all the way.
During the tournament's history there have been three teams that have gone from runner-up one year to winner the next: 81-82 North Carolina; 90-91 Duke; and 97-98 Kentucky. Three teams have finished as runner-up twice in a row: Ohio State in '61 and '62; Houston in '83 and '84; and Michigan in '91 and '92. Which will happen to Butler?
I think Butler is most similar to Houston in '83 and '84; not in terms of personnel, as there isn't much comparison between the Bulldogs and Phi Slamma Jamma; but in terms of the change the team went through from one year to the next. Houston lost Clyde Drexler and wasn't nearly as good of a team but still made it back to the finals. It was as if their previous year's experience gave them the "right" to make it that far. Butler's loss of Gordon Hayward is similar for the Bulldogs, yet they're back in the finals.
Butler could easily have hit that last-second shot against Duke and be aiming to be a repeat champion. But I think they'll be a repeat runner-up, as Kemba Walker and UConn attempt to complete one of the great season-closeouts in history.
Final prediction: Connecticut 69, Butler 65