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Next Up - Butler

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When these teams met last spring, Jon Scheyer was Duke's point guard.  We're huge Scheyer fans -- it wouldn't bother us to see his number retired because he's a brilliant player -- but part of the reason why Butler and Duke were so perfectly matched last spring was because Duke had as little interest in running as did Butler.  It was basically hand to hand combat in half court.

Kyrie Irving, along with Duke's other backcourt members, changes that.  This Duke team prefers to get after it, and we're guessing Butler is going to try to stop that.  It'll be harder without Nored, who is (we forgot this earlier) recovering from a concussion.

Butler has lost early to Louisville, badly, and to Evansville, barely.  It's been kind of lost with their move to D-I, but Evansville has a huge basketball tradition and was a dominant power in D-II.  Doesn't matter much outside of Evansville, but they know it.

Aside from Nored and Mack, they return Matt Howard, who took a subordinate role last year but who is a solid player averaging 16 ppg. and nearly 10 boards.

Guards Zach Hahn and Shawn Vanzant also return, both seniors.  Butler is playing 10 guys double digit minutes, so they're willing to go into their bench.

They're averaging 75 ppg to Duke's 90, and they're limiting opponents to 64.7.

For Duke, things have also changed. Aside from the splendid addition of Irving, Duke has gone from a very spare backcourt to perhaps the best and deepest in the nation.  Nolan Smith established himself last year and has proven explosive in Duke's uptempo offense.  Andre Dawkins is playing well enough to start, and Seth Curry has shown a willingness to defend and like the other three can go off at any point.  Any of them can take over a game.

Kyle Singler, who was thinned down and prepared to play guard if necessary last year, is firmly ensconced as a more muscular forward, although at Duke the position he plays could more aptly be called something like flex or utility or something along those lines.  Or maybe opportunist. Whatever it is, it's more than a normal definition of forward.  Shane Battier played it, as did Mike Dunleavy, Grant Hill and Danny Ferry.

Last year Butler didn't see Ryan Kelly at all; now he's starting.  They also didn't see the Mason Plumlee we've seen this year, although as a Hoosier native, he's certainly familiar with Butler.   He's vastly different than Brian Zoubek.  As spectacular as Zoubek was last year, as beautifully as he played his role, Duke was forced to play at a speed which he (and Scheyer) could best perform.  Plumlee -- both Plumlees for that matter -- are under no such limitations.

And yet, and yet...

It's been hard to shake off last year's title game.  We've watched it dozens of times.  It was a great, great college game, one played, if we're not mistaken, without a single dunk.  It was a throwback game, a game of immense character and sturdiness.  And Saturday's?

It probably won't be quite the same.  Duke is certainly favored, but Butler has shown on many occasions that stubbornness, defense and patience can overcome almost any advantage.  Can they do it again Saturday?  Our honest opinion is that the odds are against them, but odds are really just an educated guess.  Regardless of the final score, you can rest assured that Duke will get their best shot, and possibly a highly inspired one as well.

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