Joey Cranney > Freshman > Journalism Major > Temple University
Three weeks ago when the NCAA March Madness tournament began, almost no one could have envisioned how it ultimately would end.
That is, with two unlikely stories, the Connecticut Huskies and the Butler Bulldogs, each with their own uniquely unforgettable journeys, facing off in the final game.
UCONN’s journey to their NCAA Championship appearance really doesn’t begin with the beginning of March Madness, but rather the Big East conference tournament that preceded it. The Huskies came into the tournament as a nine seed after a somewhat disappointing season in which they lost nine games in Big East play. Despite their low seed, the Huskies went on an improbable run through the tournament, winning five games in five days and defeating Louisville in the championship game to capture the Big East crown.
The Big East tournament not only solidified the Huskies as a legitimate threat to make a run in the NCAA tournament, but also brought national attention to Huskies’ junior guard Kemba Walker. Walker averaged 26 points in the five games in the tournament and gave the country one of the most exciting moments of March when he hit a step-back jumper as time expired to beat Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals.
Walker and UCONN’s fine play in the Big East tournament resulted in the Huskies earning a three seed in the NCAA tournament. UCONN was a popular pick to reach the Elite Eight, but most people picked Duke to come out of the West region. After all, the Huskies three seed was more of a result of their recent play rather than based on their overall body of work.
The Huskies carried their strong play into March Madness, running through opening round opponent Bucknell and second round opponent Cincinnati by a combined total of 40 points. After knocking off two-seeded San Diego State in the Sweet Sixteen, the Huskies faced their first real test in the Elite Eight against Arizona. In a close game, the Huskies snuck past the Wildcats, 65-63. The Huskies went on to play Kentucky in the Final Four and inched out the win in another close game, 56-55.
Walker has been the catalyst for UCONN throughout the tournament. He has averaged 25 points per game and consistently approaches double digits each night in rebounds and assists.
For Butler, it has been a much more exciting ride.
The Bulldogs entered the tournament as an eight seed on an automatic bid after winning the Horizon League conference tournament. The Bulldogs received the low ranking despite making it to the National Championship game last year and taking Duke down to their last shot.
Butler won their first game, 60-58, over Old Dominion on a buzzer-beater put back layup by senior center Matt Howard. The Bulldogs then stunned the world by defeating number one seed Pittsburgh in the second round, 71-70, on a last second Howard free throw. The Bulldogs then took care of the tough-minded Wisconsin Badgers and physical Florida Gators before facing off against fellow Cinderella, the VCU Rams, in the Final Four.
On a night when the Bulldogs shot thirty-six percent from the field, Butler found a way to win. Howard scored seventeen and got help from junior guard Shelvin Mack who scored 24.
The National Championship is a battle between the mentally tough Butler versus the skilled young talent of UCONN. While Walker has proven that he is nearly invincible, Butler has proven that they can win when they don’t shoot well.
The game should be an even matchup in which Walker and Mack exchange buckets in what should end up being a relatively low-scoring game. My pick? Butler shocks the world and ends Kemba’s magical run.