Mike’s Take: 2011 NCAA Championship

Like last year’s NCAA Championship, we have a classic matchup between a basketball powerhouse from a big school in a major conference, Connecticut, and a darling, mid-major team with the small school image, Butler, who has already pulled off a number of upsets in this tournament. One thing both teams have in common is that neither was expected to make it this far.

UConn is a very young squad with a roster full of gifted athletes, a number of them top recruits from across the country. The Huskies bounced back from a mediocre regular season and wound up playing their best ball when it counted most, winning five games in five days to capture their seventh Big East championship. Led by superstar junior Kemba Walker, Jim Calhoun’s squad has continued its winning ways throughout the NCAA tournament.

After falling just one basket shy of the title to Duke last season, America’s favorite underdog has earned its second consecutive chance at winning an NCAA Championship. It’s remarkable that Butler has made it back to the Finals again after losing one of their key guys. The first Bulldog to be selected in the 2011 NBA Draft since 1950, forward Gordon Hayward was drafted ninth overall by the Utah Jazz after commanding Butler’s NCAA campaign his sophomore season. Their continued success is a tribute to Butler’s program, to head coach Brad Stevens and to his coaching staff. Butler has a great mental toughness about them. They also have some talented players who may have slipped under the radar until now, but ultimately Butler has been successful because they play so well together as a team.

Tonight we’re going to enjoy a very intense, low-scoring game. But, whereas the Blue Devils were the overwhelming favorites in the 2010 Finals, most won’t be surprised if the Bulldogs wind up winning the championship that eluded them last year.

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