Duke respects Butler

Krzyzewski says Bulldogs no Cinderella

INDIANAPOLIS – Mike Krzyzewski ain’t buying the Butler-as-Cinderella storyline. The Duke coach knows the Bulldogs’ background. He’s seen the roster that includes two members of the U.S. gold medal-winning national team, the 25-game winning streak and the tough-minded approach that has broken the likes of Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State.

“Butler is one of the best teams in the country,” Krzyzewski says. “I think Cinderella would be if somebody had eight, nine losses and pulled some upsets.

“I don’t consider them Cinderella.”

Cinderella doesn’t out-physical the Big Ten’s most physical team (Michigan State’s 52-50 loss to Butler represented the fewest points it has ever totaled in 47 NCAA tourney games under coach Tom Izzo), and thrive when it matters most (the Bulldogs have trailed in the second half in all five of their NCAA tourney wins).

Cinderella doesn’t have a pair of unofficial national titles (in 1924 and ’29, well before the start of the NIT and NCAA events) or go 4-3 against a non-conference run of Northwestern, Minnesota, UCLA, Clemson, Georgetown, Ohio State and Xavier.

Cinderella doesn’t face national championship opportunity, as Butler (33-4) will in tonight’s season-ending showdown against Duke (34-5) at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“They probably had the toughest road (to the Final Four),” Krzyzewski says. “Syracuse is as good as anybody. Kansas State was playing lights out. Those were two great wins for Butler.

“They have accomplished players. They’re an outstanding team who, because Butler hasn’t been to the Final Four, creates that Cinderella thing.”

But consider this – that Duke has morphed into scary good. It has won nine straight games. It torched a strong West Virginia defense for 13-for-25 3-point shooting in its 78-57 semifinal win Saturday night. It has shot at least 40 percent from 3-point range in four of its five NCAA tourney wins. It is NBA big (one 7-footer, three guys 6-10, three others 6-8). It rebounds relentlessly, defends ferociously. Four of its five tourney opponents have failed to reach 60 points.

“We’ve gotten better throughout the year,” Krzyzewski says. “We got better this week.”

The Blue Devils have been led all year by their big three of guards Jon Scheyer (18.2 points, 4.8 assists) and Nolan Smith (17.4 points) and forward Kyle Singler (17.6 points, 6.9 rebounds).

For most of the season, only two of those three played well in the same game. All three dominated against West Virginia (a combined 63 points, 12 rebounds and 17 assists). An added boost came from 7-1, 260-pound center Brian Zoubek (six points, 10 rebounds).

Add Krzyzewski’s Hall of Fame career (867 wins, three national titles, one Olympic gold medal) and you have a team favored by seven points to win its first national championship since 2001.

But this isn’t about history as much as it is opportunity.

“College isn’t about what I’ve done before,” Krzyzewski says. “It’s about what (these players) are doing right now.”

Howard has slight concussion

Butler center Matt Howard was held out of Sunday’s practice and could miss tonight’s NCAA championship game with a concussion.

Team trainer Ryan Galloy said Howard took two blows in Saturday’s 52-50 victory over Michigan State, first banging his head on the floor after a violent collision with two other players and then taking an elbow to the head after he returned to the game. After the second shot, he again left the floor and did not come back.

Galloy described the injury as the “mildest of mild concussions.”

Howard, who was not available for comment Sunday, is scheduled to be re-evaluated this morning.

Coach Brad Stevens said Howard’s status would be a game-time decision.

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