Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: ButlerPosted by zhayes9 on March 29th, 2010
Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. We begin the dissection with the hometown Butler Bulldogs and their quest to cut down the nets in the shadow of their campus.
Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Butler faced two potentially back-breaking moments during their West regional bouts with Syracuse and Kansas State. Wesley Johnson and Denis Clemente both nailed second half threes that relinquished healthy Butler leads. Rather than follow the script of most Cinderella’s at this stage in the season, Butler battled back from both setbacks with clutch baskets from unsung heroes Willie Veasley and Ronald Nored. Their stingy halfcourt defense buckled down, forced turnovers and shut down both Johnson and Clemente down the stretch of both contests.
Advantage Area: Butler employs a stingy and disruptive halfcourt defense, one that permits you to run your sets but rarely allows dribble penetration, effectively doubles against screens to limit open looks against opposing guards and forces a plethora of turnovers. Butler frustrated a Syracuse offense running on all cylinders into 18 turnovers on Thursday. Butler also crashes the boards with all five of their players on the floor, evident by guard Shelvin Mack garnering nearly four rebounds per game. The Bulldogs ranked sixth in the country during the season limiting offensive rebounds for their opponents. They may be able to neutralize the backboards against Michigan State, usually an area of strength for Tom Izzo’s teams. An even stiffer test follows in this area with either Duke or West Virginia.
Potential Downfall: Butler could have a difficult time defending in the post. Matt Howard, a forward known for his propensity to commit fouls, and Gordon Hayward, a more perimeter-oriented player who does manage to hold his own down low, are Brad Stevens’ tallest players at 6’8. If Howard is forced to the bench, the only other option Stevens can point to is solid defender Avery Jukes. It’s a position of definite weakness on the defensive end and Kansas State’s Curtis Kelly exploited the flaw quite well during their Elite 8 battle. Unfortunately for Butler, each of the other Final 4 teams excels in the paint, especially Duke and West Virginia should the Bulldogs advance. West Virginia is one of the tallest teams in the nation and Duke hits the boards with ferocity as any viewer of their regional final matchup with Baylor can attest.
X-Factor: Just ask Brad Stevens who the unsung hero of this Butler team is and he’ll surely respond with Willie Veasley. One of the few seniors on the squad, Veasley is normally assigned the opposing teams’ most explosive offensive weapon, as he was during the regional semifinal when Wes Johnson scored 14 less points hounded by Veasley than he did in the second round against Gonzaga. Veasley earned all-Glue team status from SI’s Seth Davis and continues to be the rock of this steady Butler attack. He can also sneak up on opponents on the other end of the floor and contribute with key baskets, much like the dagger corner three and tip-in Veasley pulled off against the Orange.
Key Semifinal Matchup: Ronald Nored vs. Durrell Summers. Coach Brad Stevens may opt for Veasley to shadow the red-hot Summers and nobody would blame him, but my inclination is that Nored will be assigned this role with Veasley covering Raymar Morgan. I made it a habit to watch Nored chase Jacob Pullen around the floor in unrelenting fashion on Saturday, sticking like glue to the talented Kansas State guard and limiting him to 14 points on 4-13 shooting. Nored also had the assignment of Andy Rautins in the previous game. Whether he’s up for another hefty challenge could determine Butler’s fate, especially when you consider just how formidable Summers’ shooting has been in the last three rounds: 25-39 FG, 14-22 3pt, 66 points.
Crunch Time Performer: Do-everything point forward Gordon Hayward will be the man in charge late for Butler. His penetration and layup broke the back of Kansas State in the regional final and Hayward is also finding his shooting stroke from three after a regular season in which his three-point percentage dipped tremendously. His versatility will greatly aid Stevens in drawing up late-game plays; Hayward can break pressure running the point, post up against a smaller defender on the block, step back and drain a three or utilize a variety of effective moves to gain access to the rim.
Experience Factor: Veasley was around when an A.J. Graves-led Butler team reached the Sweet 16, while Howard was a freshman when the Bulldogs nearly knocked off #2-seed Tennessee in the second round in 2008. This unit lost in the first round last year to LSU. Tournament experience hasn’t prevented these guys from knocking off the two highest seeds in their region. Some home-cooking will also alleviate the pressure of playing in their first Final Four.
Expected Forecast: Butler may have preferred a matchup with Tennessee rather than Michigan State for two reasons: 1) Tom Izzo doesn’t care for losing in March and 2) the Spartans can play a slower, halfcourt, physical style of basketball a bit better than the Vols. There’s no doubt that Butler can beat Michigan State if they contest the shots of Summers, ball-hawk Korie Lucious into committing turnovers and use their brutal halfcourt defense to punish Michigan State into difficult shots. They also must hold their own on the backboards against Morgan, Delvon Roe and Derrick Nix. A national title tilt with either Duke or West Virginia would prove an even bigger challenge.
Final Prediction: I say the dream Butler run ends Saturday night against the Spartans. At this point, I just cannot pick against Tom Izzo after committing the sin against Maryland, Northern Iowa and Tennessee. In a close game for 40 minutes, Butler will fall victim to some clutch Spartan baskets and leave Lucas Oil Stadium to a raucous standing ovation with their heads held high.