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UConn’s length was difference maker vs. Butler

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HOUSTON – UConn’s 53-41 win over Butler on Monday night will go down as one of the ugliest national title games in the history of the sport. For the first time in 50 years, a team failed to break the 50 point barrier in the championship game.

It’s easy to figure out why.

Butler shot 12-64 from the floor. For the game. That’s 18.8 percent. They were 9-33 from beyond the arc, which was actually a marked improvement from the 3-31 that the Bulldogs shot from inside the arc. Throw in the 8-14 that the Bulldogs shot from the foul line, and its pretty evident that what cost the Bulldogs tonight was their inability to put the ball in the basket. We can use all the advance statistics and tempo-free analysis to break down what happened in a game, but at the end of the day the team that wins is the one that scores more points.

And if you ain’t scoring, you ain’t winning.

“Without question, you know, 41 points, 12 of 64 is not good enough to win any game, let alone the national championship game,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said after the game.

“I thought we got decent looks in the second half. We just missed quite a few. Credit UConn for defending the way they do because I thought they challenged shots better than any team we’ve played all year.”

That was the difference.

Butler actually did not execute terribly on the offensive end of the floor. They were getting shots in and around the rim. They were getting pretty good looks from the perimeter. They turned the ball over just six times. They managed to corral 20 of their misses.

So why were the Bulldogs missing?

Some of it was mental. It isn’t humanly possible for a college kid on a stage this big to miss a couple of shots and not have it the pressure creep into the back of his head. And its tough to fault them for that.

But much of the blame — or credit — falls on UConn. The Huskies were, simply, longer and more athletic than Butler. They blocked 10 shots and changed countless other. I’d be willing to bet that Butler missed more layups than the number of field goals they made (12). Matt Howard finished the game 1-13 from the floor, and that one was a three pointer. Andrew Smith was just 2-9 from the field. As a team, Butler managed just two points in the paint, and those came on a layup from Andrew Smith off of an offensive rebound with 6:43 left in the game.

“I definitely think our length bothered them a lot,” Alex Oriakhi told reporters after the game. “Roscoe [Smith], myself and Charles [Okwandu] are pretty good shot blockers. Anytime they was able to drive into the lane, we tried to alter a shot or block it. I definitely think we was able to do that. That affected them throughout the whole game.”

But it was more than just changing shots around the rim.

What made UConn’s defense so difficult to score against is how well they recovered on the perimeter.

It may have been difficult to see on television, but the Huskies were able to challenge seemingly every jumper that Butler had on the perimeter. Guys like Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb, and Kemba were terrific closing out on shooters.

Lamb, in particular, deserves praise for the performance he had against Shelvin Mack. The lanky, 6’5″ freshman isn’t exactly known as defensive stopper. Yes, he uses his length, quickness, and anticipation to make plays in the passing lanes. But when you are talking about one-on-one, on the ball defense, Napier is generally the best on the UConn team, with Kemba falling close behind.

But it was Lamb that got the ball against Mack. And it was Lamb that delivered. Mack finished the game with just 13 points on 4-15 shooting. All four of those field goals came from beyond the arc. Two of those threes — the first field goal that Mack had with 4:00 left in the first half and the second field goal he hit, at the halftime buzzer — came when Donnell Beverly was guarding Mack because Lamb was on the bench in foul trouble.

That was the difference tonight.

Butler never got comfortable on the offensive end of the floor due to UConn’s length.

And it won UConn the national title.

Alabama upsets No. 15 Texas A&M as Aggies continue recent freefall

Alabama guard Retin Obasohan (32) scores against Texas A&M during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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Alabama played inspired ball on both ends of the floor and held on to upset No. 15 Texas A&M 63-62 in an SEC thriller on Wednesday night. Trailing by one point with less than three seconds left, Texas A&M had a chance to tie or take the lead with senior Anthony Collins at the line for two free throws. But Collins, one of the nation’s best free-throw shooters at 92 percent on the season, missed both free throws in a heartbreaking loss for the Aggies.

The Crimson Tide controlled the glass most of the game by outrebounding the Aggies 36-29 and also forced 13 Texas A&M turnovers. The loss for Texas A&M means they’ve lost four of their last five games and four straight games in the SEC.

Retin Obasahon led Alabama (14-9, 5-6) with 16 points as he made a lot of big plays in the second half to put the team on his back. The win means the Crimson Tide have won three consecutive games and defeated four ranked opponents during the season. Riley Norris added 11 points for the Crimson Tide while Shannon Hale was also in double-figures with 10 points.

Although Texas A&M (18-6, 7-4) did better with their recent shaky 3-point defense, holding Alabama to 8-for-25 (32 percent) from distance, they were outhustled on the glass for much of the game and couldn’t overcome a slow start. Senior Jalen Jones finished with 21 points and seven rebounds while Danuel House had 12 points and Collins finished with 11.

This loss is absolutely killer for Texas A&M, as they continue to slide down the SEC standings. The recent road woes for the Aggies also continued as they’ve lost three straight away from home. The schedule doesn’t get much easier for the Aggies the next few games, either, as they travel to LSU and then host Ole Miss and Kentucky. Texas A&M is in a potential freefall right now and they went from a major contender in the SEC to a team that just needs to get back on track.

As for Alabama, this is another solid win for head coach Avery Johnson in his first season. It’s hard to say if Johnson got some scouting advice from his son Avery Johnson Jr., a redshirt guard for the Crimson Tide who played for the Aggies last season, but they’ll certainly take this tight win. Alabama is now 5-1 in one-possession games this season and there’s something to be said for that mark.

BUBBLE BANTER: Key Atlantic 10, Big East bubble games

Kelan Martin, Kyle Alexander
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This post will be updated throughout the night.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This is the win that Saint Joseph’s (KenPom: 48, RPI: 30) needed.

Entering Wednesday night, the Hawks were a paper tiger, a team with terrific computers numbers despite the fact that they hadn’t actually accomplished much of anything this season.

Well, that’s not exactly true. They are now 20-4 on the season and 10-2 in the Atlantic 10. They haven’t lost to anyone ranked outside the RPI top 50, and while that seems like it should be a simple thing to do, upsets happen all the time in college basketball. Not losing to anyone that stinks is one of the marks of a good team.

The problem, however, is that prior to their trip to Foggy Bottom on Wednesday, the best win that St. Joe’s had on the season … Princeton? At Temple? They were without an RPI top 50 win and, if you factor in Buffalo, the Hawks and three top 100 wins on their résumé.

That’s not exactly the stuff of at-large bids.

And then Wednesday happened, and the Hawks went into the Smith Center and hammered a good George Washington team by 18 points, the same GW team that went into Richmond on Saturday and handed VCU their first loss of the conference season.

It looks like nothing more than a top 50 road win on their profile, but for at least one person that was in attendance (Hi!), it was something of a statement win. I had my doubts about the group, and while the eye-test is totally subjective and probably the worst way to gauge whether or not a team is a tournament team, they certainly passed my eye-test today.

WINNERS

  • Butler (KenPom: 41, RPI; 67): The Bulldogs landed a critical win on Wednesday night, as they went into Newark and knocked off a Seton Hall team that is probably better than you realize. That’s an RPI top 50 win on the road that’s getting added to a résumé that, entering the night, had just a single top 50 win. Period. The Bulldogs still have plenty of work to do, but with their only two bad losses coming on the road against league competition and five wins against the top 100 with four coming away from Hinkle Fieldhouse, Chris Holtmann’s club has positioned themselves nicely to not only get a bid but get a solid seed as well.

LOSERS

  • Seton Hall (KenPom: 31, RPI: 37): Losing to Butler certainly doesn’t help Seton Hall’s cause, but this isn’t a bad loss. The Pirates are still without a sub-100 loss, although this does drop them to 6-7 against the RPI top 100 with a pair top 50 wins. They’re still in the tournament as of today, and probably with some room to spare.
  • George Washington (KenPom: 71, RPI: 34): There are two positives to take out of GW’s loss to Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday night: 1) The Hawks may end up being an RPI top 25 team once the numbers are crunched overnight, so this is anything but a bad loss, and 2) This 18-point drubbing will look exactly the same as a one-point loss at the buzzer in the eyes of the selection committee.

LSU (KenPom: 53, RPI: 76) at South Carolina (KenPom: 45, RPI: 28), 7:00 p.m.
Nebraska at Wisconsin (KenPom: 51, RPI: 62), 7:00 p.m.
Missouri at Vanderbilt (KenPom: 35, RPI: 58), 9:00 p.m.
No. 14 Iowa State at Texas Tech (KenPom: 59, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
Michigan (KenPom: 46, RPI: 56) at Minnesota, 9:00 p.m.
Washington (KenPom: 80, RPI: 57) at Utah (KenPom: 44, RPI: 16), 9:00 p.m.
San Diego State (KenPom: 65, RPI: 47) at Fresno State, 11:00 p.m.