This year’s Division I NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship game featured the third-seeded University of Connecticut Huskies against the eighth-seeded Butler Bulldogs. Despite possessing the lead after a brutal, defense-dominated first half, the Butler team completely fell apart in the second half, losing their second NCAA Championship game in a row in what will no doubt be considered one of the least memorable finals in the history of the tournament.
Both teams played fantastic defense in the first half, resulting in the lowest-scoring first half in the NCAA tournament final since 1946. Butler made one two-point field goal, shot 22 percent, and yet managed to hang onto the lead, 22-19. In the second half, however, Butler faltered on both offense and defense, especially in the paint. They allowed UConn to make easy layups while never seeming to be able to penetrate themselves, and were outscored 26-2 in the paint. Butler did do an exceptional job of throwing the ball in close proximity of the basket, which would have helped — except that the ball passed through the inside of the rim only 18.8 percent of the time, the lowest field goal percentage for any team in NCAA tournament history. Ultimately, UConn’s defensive pressure, which kept Butler out of the paint and forced poor shots, was sufficient to lead the Huskies to their third championship title since 1999.
Capped off by an uneventful final game, UConn had perhaps the least exciting run of the entire tournament. They deserve credit for winning 11 straight games on their path to the title and for playing fantastic defense, but the lesson of the tournament this year was that the key to winning a national championship is never having to pull any upsets. Their toughest matches in the tournament were against fifth-seeded Arizona and fourth-seeded Kentucky, who were both tired after having just dispatched tournament giants Duke and Ohio State, respectively. The highest-seeded team UConn played was No. 2 San Diego State, who “earned” their high seed because their toughest regular season opponent was BYU. For Connecticut, winning the championship was like being the last Spaniard to arrive in the New World. After the jungles had been cleared and the native population subjugated, the UConn-quistadors just waltzed in and stole all the gold.
Butler, in contrast, was the Cinderella team for the second year in a row. After barely beating Old Dominion thanks to a lucky last-second tip-in, Butler took out No. 1 seedPittsburgh, then beat No. 4 seed Wisconsin, and won a thriller in overtime over No. 2 seed Florida. Their win over the other Cinderella team — 11th-seeded VCU — secured the Bulldogs’ spot in the national championship game, as unlikely as their appearance in last year’s final. In 2010 they played down to the wire against Duke and had an opportunity for a last-second three-pointer that would have given them the victory. Despite the loss, Butler still walked away with pride knowing they had achieved more than anyone could have imagined. This year, however, Butler walked away with their tail between their legs, having completely fallen apart after such a great run.
Overall, it was shame that a tournament full of unfathomable upsets was still won by a perennial powerhouse whose most impressive accomplishment was somehow managing to win a tournament without beating a single No. 1 seed.