So what are you doing at 9:23 PM ET tonight? Unless you’re watching WWE RAW’s recap of last night’s Wrestlemania, you’ll be tuned in to the NCAA National Championship game between No. 8 seed Butler and No. 3 seed UConn.
So how is this going to play out tonight? You’ve undoubtedly watched/listed to Jay Bilas, Doug Gottlieb, Digger, Hubert, Dickie V, and any number of other talking heads; you’ve probably read plenty of pre-game analysis and you may have even made your opinion known in the comments section of the site or on our poll (most of you appear to be feeling UConn). So last but not least, some members of the Dime Crew wanted to weigh in our personal picks for tonight’s game:
JACK JENSEN: Butler will win, not only because of experience, but also because of Brad Stevens. Stevens is mature and well prepared, and has instilled those same traits within his team – including confidence. Butler also makes their opponents play their game at a slower and more calculated tempo. Plus, my gut reaction to Butler throughout this entire tournament is that you just can’t bet against them. It’s definitely going to be a battle tonight against UConn, but the Bulldogs always seem to find a way to win.
SEAN SWEENEY: Really, I should be the last one anyone should be asking for predictions. I think I picked Butler to get sent home in the first round (and they very nearly were) and I’ve been picking against UConn routinely in this tournament.
Still, big games come down to big players. And the biggest player in this year’s title game will be one of the smallest guys on the court: Kyle Bailey. I kid. Obviously, Kemba Walker is going to get freaky and bring the championship back to Storrs. But don’t hate me if I’m wrong because I probably will be.
ALEX HUGHES: I’m taking the Bulldogs of Butler in tonight’s National Championship. Let me be clear: I think UConn is the bigger, stronger, faster and overall better team. If these teams were playing 10 times, I would have UConn winning probably 6-7 of the 10 times. However, when the lights turn on tonight, I think Butler takes advantage of a young UConn team and builds on the experience they gained last year making the run to the Championship game.
There’s no question that UConn has the best player on the floor tonight in Kemba Walker. However, he will be matched up with a very underrated defender in Shawn Vanzant. He won’t be able to shut down Kemba, but he will be there all night challenging shots and making life difficult for the future 1st round pick. I still expect Kemba to get 18-20 points, but I don’t think it will be enough.
Shelvin Mack will continue his uncanny ability to knock down clutch shots.
Add to that the combination of Matt Howard and Andrew Smith who will outwork and out scrap the much larger and deeper UConn front line. The biggest concern of the night for Butler will be foul trouble for their frontline. Howard has been notorious for getting in early foul trouble throughout his career. If that happens tonight, look for Butler freshman Khyle Marshall to step in and give the team some big minutes as he did in overtime of the Florida game.
Another wild card off the bench is Senior guard Zach Hahn. He’s a streaky shooter and if he gets hot, he could provide the added scoring spark off the bench to put the Bulldogs over the top.
I expect an ugly, low scoring game. Just the kind of game where Butler thrives. When its all said and done, I see the Bulldogs edging the Huskies 61 – 58.
ARIE STARK: Butler over UConn. Following with the adage that defense win championships, I think Butler has the edge. With a foundation built around solid team defense and a junior guard in Ronal Nored – one of the elite perimeter defenders in all of college basketball – I believe the Kemba-train can be derailed tonight. Make no mistake, it’s going to be hard fought battle but coming within a desperation heave short of the title last year, the Bulldogs are hungry as ever this time around and won’t let the opportunity slip.
HOLLY SMITH: Butler. forget about the X-factor, it’s all about the team-factor.
ARON PHILLIPS: You should know that I was the last one to send in my prediction for tonight’s game … but that’s fitting. Because tonight UConn will walk off the court in Houston victorious, despite failing to show up in the first half.
Full disclosure: The Huskies are my college team. Growing up in Vermont, there’s only so far the Catamounts can take you each March. Some years it’s upsetting Syracuse in the first round, most others, it’s not. So when it came to big-time college hoops, it’s been UConn ever since the days of Donyell Marshall. My favorite player of all time? Ricky Moore. And tonight, it’s time to add another ‘chip to the trophy case. Kemba will get his, but the key to this game is Jeremy Lamb. There’s probably no one in the country that has improved as much as he has this season. And riding this unbelievable tournament run – from Maui to the Big East to the Big Dance – our time is now.
There you have it – predictions from a selection of the Dime Family. As for me, I’m going to go with Butler. If they hadn’t come this far last season, I’d be wary of the way the bright lights were going to shake them tonight. This team though, like their coach, is unflappable. They don’t care who they’re playing, they don’t care how many NBA players are on the other side; they’re going to guard the hell out of you and make you play the game at their pace.
I do worry about the constant specter of inevitable Matt Howard foul trouble hanging over the entire game, especially in the first half. If he can stay in the game, the Bulldogs can do this. Because of the Huskies’ front line, Butler desperately needs Howard on the floor to keep them in check.
Above all, I have complete faith in Shelvin Mack. He is an absolute monster who makes clutch shots over and over and over again, and I think he does it again tonight. Mack, Howard and Brad Stevens have an air of destiny about them, and that destiny plays out tonight in Houston.
Are you picking Butler or UConn?