I never thought it would happen. I'm not going to lie. At the beginning of this seas..."/> I never thought it would happen. I'm not going to lie. At the beginning of this seas..."/> I never thought it would happen. I'm not going to lie. At the beginning of this seas..."/>

DUKE BLUE DEVILS | NATIONAL CHAMPS

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I never thought it would happen. I’m not going to lie. At the beginning of this season, I never thought this team was good enough. Don’t get me wrong, I knew they were good, but not national title good. Hell, just prior to the tournament I wrote a post about why Duke won’t win the championship.

I was wrong. There is no shame in admitting it. At the very least, a lot of people were too.

I’m going to be posting more on this team, the tournament and the future later this week, but for this post, I just want to focus on this game.

WHAT DID I SEE?

THAT FINAL SHOT
Could you imagine if that went in? If that ball found its way into the basket, Gordan Hayward would have been the king of college basketball folklore. You could forget all about Mario Chalmers, Keith Smart and Lorenzo Charles. Those guys would have had nothing on Heyward if he made that shot. It would have been the half-court shot that slayed the dragon.

Could you imagine? Hell, if Hollywood wrote an ending like that (with the ball going in for the win), I would have dismissed it as being too cheesy. Luckily for Blue Devil nation, it didn’t.

KYLE SINGLER PROBABLY PLAYED HIS LAST GAME…
At least it was a good one. Outside of the Baylor game, Singler has been a stud in the tournament and tonight, he was Duke’s best player. He finished with 19 points, nine boards, two assists and three blocks. Every time Duke needed a basket, he nailed it.

How clutch was he?

You know in baseball, people often gave A-Rod a hard time because he always hit his bombs when the Yankees were up big and never in the clutch? I’m not exactly sure what is the basketball equivalent to that, but let me throw some numbers at you.

Singler made seven shots tonight. In all seven shots, Duke never led by more than two points when he made the shot. In fact, Duke trailed three times when Kyle made his shot, tied once, led by one once and was up two, twice.

For the record, Singler missed six shots. Duke was never trailing when he missed those shots. They were tied once, up one once, up two twice and up four twice.

I do believe this will be Singler’s last game in a Duke uniform. I suspect he’ll declare, but won’t take an agent. But like Henderson last year, he will decide to go. With this great tournament, he has probably moved himself up to the middle of the first-round, just outside of a lottery pick.

As a Duke fan, I obviously want him back. With him, Duke is the preseason No 1 team next year. The question is, how much better is he going to get? Sure he could get moved up a few spots, but he’s never going to be a top-five pick. At the very least, if he gets drafted in the back-half of the first round, he’ll end up on a decent team, instead of a team like the Clippers.

I just think this championship seals the deal. Of course I’ve been wrong so many times before, so there’s that. As of this writing, he says he’s undecided.

SENIORS GO OUT ON TOP
What a way to go out for Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas and Jon Scheyer. It has been one hell of a ride, hasn’t it? Four years ago, these seniors ended their first year at Duke with a four game slide, including an embarrassing first-round loss to VCU.

The next two years, they had to deal with benchings, injuries, playing out of position and accusations of underachievement, all while their neighbors in Chapel Hill became kings of college basketball. As a fan, I went from wanting national championships to “just beat North Carolina at home, please!”

Yet, they kept getting better and grew as a team. They got healthy and yeah, they also got lucky as teams like Kansas and Kentucky went down early. Yet, after it is all said and done, they are now and will always be part of the Duke legacy. They have a championship, something plenty of great Duke players over the years can’t say. Enjoy it, boys.

SCHEYER DESERVES THIS
Fair or not, Jon’s been the face of Duke’s struggles over the last four years. When Duke failed, he shouldered much of the blame. When Duke won, he never got enough credit. At the end of this season when he slumped, everyone was ready to declare him dead. Yet, that slumped ended and he’s been on fire since late in the Purdue game.

Tonight though, Scheyer was everywhere, doing everything. He scored (15 points, 5-15 shooting). He rebounded (six boards). He dished the ball out (five assists) and just for fun, he got some blocks (two).

ZOUBEK WAS THE X-FACTOR…AGAIN
For the first 20 minutes, Duke got owned on the boards. The smaller Butler Bulldogs were crashing the glass, out-rebounding Duke 22-16. Obviously Coach K sent a kind (I’m sure) message about rebounding to his team at halftime.

In the second, Duke took control. At one point in the second half, Duke had grabbed 19 rebounds to Butler’s six. The Bulldogs finished stronger, but in the second half, Duke won the battle of the glass, 20-10.

Of course this wasn’t about rebounding, it was about Zoubek. Not only did Brian grab many of those second half rebounds, the Zoubeard did three huge things in this game that made the difference.

1) He didn’t foul out. Stunningly, with 10+ minutes to go, Coach K put Zoubek back in the game with four fouls. I never in my wildest dreams thought that Brian could play ten minutes without picking up another foul, especially with the way Hayward was driving to the paint. Yet, Zoubek was able to avoid the foul and be there at the end when it counted.

2) He switch over on Hayward with five seconds left, when Gordan was driving to the right. The play started at the top of the key, Butler down one. Singler was on Hayward. The Butler forward was able to get past Kyle, but he ran right into Zoubek, who got his giant hand up in the air. He forced Hayward to fade away, past the backboard. The shot almost went in, but didn’t and Zoubek and his big paw was the #1 reason.

3) He grabbed his final and most important rebound of his career. So not only did he force Hayward to miss the shot, he was able to turn around and snag the rebound. He would go on to make a free throw, scoring Duke’s last point of the season.

MISSED FREE THROW ON PURPOSE?
Did Brian Zoubek miss that last free throw on purpose? I went back and watched it a couple of times and I don’t see Coach K telling him to miss it. If that was the game plan, wouldn’t you have Singler in the lane to try to at least delay the advancement of the ball? If anyone finds out, let me know.

IGNORING THE BIG FELLAS
Butler’s game plan was to ignore Duke’s big guys, Thomas and Zoubek, on the offensive end. It didn’t work. Not only did the Big Three hit 17-35, Zoubek and Thomas made them pay, hitting 7-9 from the floor.

WE DON’T NEED NO STICKIN’ THREES
The problem with the Blue Devils over the years was, if they can’t hit their threes, they lose. Tonight, they didn’t hit their threes, hitting only 5-17 from deep (three of those were Singler’s), yet Duke won. How did they do this? Well, I’ve already talked about the rebounds in the second half. That clearly was the number one factor. However…

Another key factor was blocks. Duke had seven blocks tonight, while Butler blocked none. Overall, Duke’s defense was on tonight like it has been ever since the Georgetown game. Lance Thomas and Kyle Singler combined to shut down Gordan Hayward tonight. He shot 2-11 from the floor overall, although he was a solid 8-8 from the FT line. In the end though, Duke’s adjustments made all the difference. Speaking of…

MAKING THE ADJUSTMENTS
The one thing I’ve always bragged about this team and Coach K was their ability to make adjustments. Look at some of the differences in this game.

– Duke gets out-rebounded in the first-half 22-16. They win the battle of the boards in the second half, 20-10.
– Shelvin Mack scores 10 points in the games first 10 minutes. In the final 30 minutes, he scores two.
– In the first half, Avery Jukes is a scoring machine, scoring 10. In the second half, he is shutout.
– 17 of Duke’s first 35 shots were three-point shots. They made five of them. With 18 minutes to play, Duke would only shoot two more three-point shots (hitting one, missing the other). They finished 8-15 from two-point range though (18-35 for the game).

COUGH, COUGH! CHOCKING HERE.
I don’t know about you, but it sure felt like Duke was trying to choke this one away. Think about it, with 7:10 to play, Duke had a five-point lead and the ball. Here is what happened on the offensive end after that: Smith miss, Scheyer miss (rebounded by Zoubek), turn over by Zoubek, Singler turnover, Singler hits a two-pointer, Scheyer miss (Zoubek rebounds the miss), Smith hits two free throws. Thomas turnover, Singler turnover, Smith miss, Singler miss, Zoubek hits one of two free throws.

To recount that again. Duke’s final 12 possessions (counting offensive rebounds as a new possession), Duke shot 1-5 from the floor and turned it over four times. Luckily they hit 3-4 free throw attempts.

NOLAN DOES IT QUIETLY
Overall, I wouldn’t call it Nolan’s best night. He seemed a bit off, fumbling the ball out-of-bounds, bouncing the ball of his foot. There were a number of times when I saw him receive a pass and just wait, something Nolan doesn’t typically do. All season long, Smith would have taken the shot or taken it to the hole. He just seemed off, like he was injured or something, but I have no clue if he was.

In the end though, I can’t discount the job he did tonight. First, he was asked to run point more than I’ve ever seen him run it before this season. The game plan clearly was to let Singler and Scheyer fly in and around screens while Nolan was the primary ball handler.

Secondly, it was his great D that put an end to Mack’s hot hand. Like we said, after scoring 10 in 10, Mack was almost invisible the rest of the way.

In the end, I’m the most happiest for Smith. He now has two rings, his father’s and now his own.

SPEAKING OF HAPPY FOR
What can you say about Andre Dawkins? The kid is just 18 years old and think about the last nine months of his life. He graduates high school early, heads to Duke and gets off to a hot start. Then tragedy strikes as his sister is killed in a car accident while on the way to see him play. He somehow is able to play ball, but struggles. Yet he regains his confidence, hits a couple of huge threes in the regional and now…now he’s a champion. If anyone needs a moment to just take a breath, it’s Andre.

NO BENCH FOR YOU
Serious question…when was the last time a team won the national championship without receiving a single point from the bench? Plumlee (Miles and Mason) and Dawkins scored zero points tonight, but the fact was, they didn’t play that much. The trio only combined for 17 total minutes and they only got those because of foul trouble from the starters.

If I can be disappointed about anything tonight, it would have to be the play of the Plumlee’s. They struggled tonight, allowing Butler to take over ownership of the backboards. Think about it, how many times did Mason and Miles get their hands on a ball, only to have it taken away by a much smaller Bulldog?

No worries of course, Duke won and the Blue Devils wouldn’t have been here without the Plumlee brothers. Mason and Miles (and Dawkins) will get better as both will be starters next season. All I can say is, over the summer, let’s get stronger with the ball, folks.

FOR THE RECORD: This officially makes the first decade of the 21st century, the ACC’s. The Atlantic Coast Conference has produced five of the last 10 champions (Duke twice, Carolina twice, Maryland once). The Big East can have their nine teams each year in the tournament. I’ll take the title any day.

STAT OF THE DAY: Coach Krzyzewski: 4 Titles. Roy Williams: 2. Although to be fair, Roy Williams has Coach K in one thing….N.I.T all-time record, Roy 4-1, Coach K 2-2.

WRAP UP
In the end, all I can say is, wow. What an amazing game. I kept waiting for Duke to pull away, but Butler wouldn’t let them. Seriously, they’re the only team that can catch up without hitting a shot for seven minutes.

You have to hand it to them. They’re not Cinderella, they’re not some ‘too-small’ mid-major. They are equal with the Blue Devils and should be a top-five club next season.

In the end, it was a battle all night long, with so many lead changes and ties. No team got far ahead (Duke’s biggest second half lead was five), yet when it was all said and done, your Duke Blue Devils were the champs.

It just goes to show, with so many stars heading to the NBA after one or two seasons, college basketball remains a sport of upperclassmen. With the exception of Florida’s first title and a Syracuse team led by a freshman named ‘Melo, the one thing all recent champs have in common are lots of juniors and seniors.

Thank you, Duke Blue Devils. It’s been one hell of a ride.