INDIANAPOLIS — Just what Cinderella needs. A wicked stepsister.
For if Butler is one of the most implausible national championship contenders since the NCAA Tournament field expanded, Duke is as close as it gets to college basketball royalty in this generation.
The Blue Devils crushed West Virginia 78-57 Saturday night to reach the national title game for the eighth time in the past 25 years. No other team has made more than four championship game appearances in that span.
"It's definitely going to be a big story," Duke guard Nolan Smith said. "People calling Butler the Cinderella and, of course, Duke is the big-time program. But it's going to be a fight. Both teams are very good. I just can't wait to play."
The way they played Saturday, the Blue Devils may not have wanted to leave the court. Duke was nearly flawless, opening a 10-point lead with 12 minutes remaining and never letting the Mountaineers get any closer.
Duke shot 52.7 percent from the field and 52 percent from the 3-point line. It had 20 assists and only six turnovers. And it isn't looking like a fluke. The Blue Devils (34-5) have now outscored opponents by an average of 17 points in the NCAA Tournament.
"Rarely have we had it all together in the same game. We did a great job in every aspect tonight," center Brian Zoubek said. "It's the best feeling in the world to play your best basketball at the end of the year."
Now all Duke has to do is get past the team that has captured the attention of a nation. Butler is a small private school, from a nondescript conference, playing in its first Final Four just 6 miles from its campus.
It's hard not to portray the Bulldogs as some kind of underdog against a team with three national championships since 1991, but Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is doing his best to level the odds.
"I think they're one of the best teams in the country. I think Cinderella would be if somebody had eight or nine losses and pulled some upsets," he said. "I don't know for sure, but I think they've won 25 in a row. Yeah, they've beaten Syracuse and Kansas State and Michigan State. I don't really consider them Cinderella."
Butler is just the third No. 5 seed to reach the championship game. In each of the previous two times, the No. 5 seed has lost to a No. 1 in the final game.
"Anytime you come to Duke, there are so many great players that played before you. So many great teams," said guard Jon Scheyer, who finished with 23 points and six assists. "It's great to be able to add something on."
West Virginia, playing in its first Final Four since 1959, was without starting point guard Darryl Bryant, who broke his foot a week ago, then lost All-American Da'Sean Butler with a knee injury in the second half.
The Mountaineers (31-7) have survived most of the season with a stellar defense but could do nothing to slow Duke down in the second half.
"This team has had big goals all year," Scheyer said. "We're not planning on stopping now."
John Romano can be reached at [email protected]