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Mighty Duke Vs. Mini Butler: NCAA's Final Showdown

Butler's Avery Jukes (left) and Shawn Vanzant exult after Butler's 52-50 win over Michigan State to reach the NCAA championship game.
Mark J. Terrill
Butler's Avery Jukes (left) and Shawn Vanzant exult after Butler's 52-50 win over Michigan State to reach the NCAA championship game.

The matchup in Monday night's college basketball championship game sounds like David vs. Goliath – only if the G-man were eight times the size of little Davy.

The Goliath in this case, aka Duke, has an annual basketball budget of $13.9 million — the biggest in the country, according to the statistics Web site Basketball State. Little Butler ranks 142nd, with a shoestring operation that costs just $1.7 million a year.

This is Duke's 15th Final Four, and the school's 10th championship game. Butler's never been there — in fact, no so-called mid-major school had reached the final in the modern era — until tonight.

The Las Vegas oddsmakers don't give the upstart Bulldogs much of a chance: Duke's favored by 7 points.

Courting History

But basketball games aren't played on stat sheets or in Vegas sports books. They're played in places like Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler campus, just six miles away from the massive Lucas Oil Stadium, where tonight's finale tips off at 9:20 p.m. EDT.

Butler's home court turned 92 years old last month. It's where the movie Hoosiers was filmed and where years of Indiana high school championships were played.

And it's a fitting launchpad for one of the most surprising runs in college basketball history. Butler's won 25 games in a row — including a five-game tear through the NCAA tournament.

That drive hit its high point — so far, at least — at the first national semifinal on Saturday night. Butler weathered a 10-minute field-goal drought to outlast Michigan State, 52-50.

Meanwhile, the giants from Duke cruised past West Virginia 78-57 to set up tonight's showdown.

Big guy vs. little guy. Either way, it'll be history.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rick Holter is KERA's vice president of news. He oversees news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News won 41 awards last year, including the station's first-ever national Edward R. Murrow Award for a video in its series One Crisis Away: Rebuilding A Life. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.