INDIANAPOLIS - Two private schools will compete for the national championship at 9:21 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium. The exclusives hadn't battled to determine the elite since 1985 when Villanova famously stunned Georgetown.
For one reason or another, that game generates a comparison commonly applied to this Butler-Duke game. The Blue Devils (34-5), who were the No. 1 seed in the South Region, will be appearing in the program's 10th championship game and trying to win their fourth title.
Butler, a school with an enrollment of about 4,500 and located just a few minutes from the stadium, had never made it beyond the Sweet Sixteen.
The problem, though, is Cinderella parallels do not apply. Butler was No. 11 in the preseason poll and No. 11 in the final regular-season poll. The Bulldogs (33-4), who come from the Horizon League, have also won 25 consecutive games. They were a No. 5 seed in the West Region and have likely the most talented player and best professional prospect in the Final Four in 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Gordon Hayward.
"I think they're one of the best teams in the country," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I think Cinderella would be if somebody had eight, nine losses and pulled some upsets, stuff like that. They've beaten Syracuse and Kansas State and Michigan State (in succession in the NCAA Tournament). I think they're a very outstanding basketball team who, because Butler hasn't been to a Final Four, creates that Cinderella thing."
The Bulldogs beat No. 5 seed Michigan State 52-50 despite shooting 30.6 percent and recording five assists. The Blue Devils crushed West Virginia, 78-57, and shot 52.7 percent while making 13-of-25 3-point attempts. Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, their three leading scorers, combined for 63 points and 12 3s. Duke outrebounded WVU 29-27, but had 19 points off 11 offensive rebounds.
"What's really hard is if you try to do too many things to keep the ball away from those three guys - and those three perimeter guys are terrific - you turn the other two guys loose at the rim to rebound the ball," Mountaineers Coach Bob Huggins said of Duke's effective frontcourt rotation. "I don't think you can let them offensive rebound the ball. I told our guys and I told our guys that."
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IT DIDN'T take long for someone to ask Devin Ebanks about his future following WVU's Final Four loss.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore from Long Island City, N.Y., had 11 points, three rebounds and one assist in what might be his last game before entering the NBA Draft.
Ebanks diplomatically addressed the topic throughout the season and did so again in a quiet locker room as he packed his bag.
"It's too early for any of that," Ebanks said. "We had a job to do to win a championship. I don't think we ever lost focus of that. It's disappointing we're not going to win a championship, but we did have a good season."
Ebanks averaged 12 points and 8.1 rebounds after averaging 10.5 and 7.8 last season. He was third-team all-Big East this season and on the all-rookie team last year.