Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Butler

Posted 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.

 

Nored, Hayward and Mack lead Butler/ Indianapolis Star

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.

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That’s Debatable: Looking Back at Regional Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2010

We did this last week and it seemed to work pretty well, so let’s do it again.  Here are five questions from the past weekend’s action with a look ahead to the Final Four. Each of the below polls will allow comments, so let’s build some discussion through there.

Q1: What Was the Biggest Surprise This Weekend?

We’re going with Mazzulla on this one.  He came into the game averaging a bucket per contest, yet he shredded the Kentucky defense for easy layups multiple times over the course of WVU’s win over the Wildcats.  Many of the others were also surprising, and if we had to choose a #2, it would probably be Butler defeating Syracuse and K-State.  Not so much because we don’t believe in the Bulldogs (we do!), but just because how methodically they shut down the guards of both of those elite teams.

Q2: Butler: Cinderella or Legit Championship Threat?

We’d be more inclined to think they were a legitimate championship threat if they didn’t have to face a team in Michigan State that thrives on street fight defense.  It’ll be just another day at the Big Ten office for the Spartans in playing the Bulldogs, and there’s no way that Tom Izzo will allow his team to look past them.

Q3: Was JP Prince’s Foul on Raymar Morgan Legit?

Yeah, it was.  We’ve slowed it down a few times and there was enough arm in addition to ball there to warrant the call.  The mistake was letting MSU beat the Vols down the court to the blocks.  If UT had gotten back better, they might still be playing.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.28.10

Posted by THager on March 28th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • Michigan State’s victory on Sunday is not without controversy.  Tennessee’s J.P. Prince, who committed the crucial foul with less than two seconds left, went over to the scorer’s table after the game and said that he did not believe there was a foul.
  • Although this is Tom Izzo’s sixth trip to the Final Four in twelve years, he makes sure not to take it for granted.  According to Izzo, reaching the Final Four is the greatest aspect of coaching because of the work involved in getting there.
  • The trip to the semifinals is even more impressive considering former MSU star Magic Johnson did not even believe that this was a Final Four team a month ago.
  • Perhaps the reason for Izzo’s success is his perfectionist attitude.  During one point in the game on Sunday, Draymond Green asked if he could make a mistake, and Izzo told him not at this crucial time of year.
  • Kalin Lucas is still the hero for Michigan State, as fans chanted his name and players carried him up to the rim to cut the nets.

Duke (Patrick Sellars)

  • The Washington Post looks at the brotherhood of the Duke Blue Devils in this article. Coach K has a team back in the Final Four for the first time since 2004.
  • Was Scott Drew’s coaching inexperience exposed in the Elite Eight matchup Sunday? Here is a look at how Drew may have cost Baylor the game and a shot at the Final Four.
  • Everyone is happy in Durham. Jon Scheyer said “It’s a dream come true. To get that win, we had to work our butts off for it, and it felt great.”
  • There was a lot of emotion in the Baylor locker room after their loss on Sunday. It was a sad end to a dream season. “You don’t want it to end,” a teary-eyed Tweety Carter said, “and you want to do whatever it takes to make it go on.”

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RTC (Sorta) Live: The Elite Eight – Sunday 03.28.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 28th, 2010

After 59 mostly amazing NCAA Tournament games, we are down to the last two before we head to Indianapolis for the Final Four. Butler and West Virginia have already sealed trips to Indianapolis, but there are still two more tickets waiting to be punched. One Elite 8 match-up (the South) features a pair of teams–Duke and Baylor–that nobody is really surprised to see here. The other Elite 8 match-up (the Midwest) features two teams–Michigan State and Tennessee–that were expected to contend for a Final Four spot at the beginning of the season, but basically fell off the map during parts of the season only to be miraculously resurrected. Either way all four are just one win away from making the trip to the promised land: the Final Four.

We will kick things off at 2 PM and follow both Elite 8 games:

  • 2:20 PM: #5 Michigan State versus #6 Tennessee
  • 5:05 PM: #1 Duke versus #3 Baylor

So stop by to hear ground-breaking analysis, chat with fellow hoops heads, and ask us any questions you have about all things basketball.

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RTC Region by Region Analysis: 03.27.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

West Region (Andrew Murawa)

  • Usually in college basketball, when you say a team is going home, you mean they just lost and their season is over. For Butler, there are no such problems; they just upset Kansas State in Salt Lake City and are headed back to Indianapolis, the site of this year’s Final Four, to compete in their first National Semifinal just a few miles from their campus.
  • How did they do it? The easy answer is defense, mostly controlling KSU’s explosive backdoor pair of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen and, rather surprisingly, getting the best of the Wildcats on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 41-29, an astounding number for the smaller, less athletic team.
  • The Bulldog win was a complete team effort, with stars like Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward having their usual strong performances, role-players like Ronald Nored and Willie Veasley adding their gritty play, but also players like little-used freshman center Andrew Smith giving head coach Brad Stevens quite a few strong minutes in the wake of Matt Howard’s foul trouble.

East Region

  • Andy Katz writes that despite Kentucky’s presumed coronation coming up a few games short in Syracuse tonight, the Cats are back, and the health of the UK program is an overall good thing for college basketball in general.
  • Mike Freeman skewers Kentucky for whining and complaining to the refs in most of this game and refusing to give West Virginia responsibility for winning the game.  Interesting stat that Bob Huggins is now 8-1 against John Calipari in head-to-head matchups.
  • West Virginia’s Wellington Smith stated after the Mountaineers defeated Kentucky that they were looking at that as the ‘national championship game’ and had no trouble claiming that WVU should be the resounding favorite in next week’s Final Four.
  • The great game that WVU’s Joe Mazzulla put forth in the regional finals today may have bought enough time for his teammate Truck Bryant to get healthy.  He says that he’s 90% sure that he’ll be able to play in the Final Four next weekend.

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RTC (Sorta) Live: The Elite Eight – Saturday 03.27.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on March 27th, 2010

No doubt, getting to the Elite Eight is an accomplishment…but teams don’t hang banners for Elite Eights (at least they shouldn’t).  All the weights lifted, all the miles run, all the shots hoisted in practice, all the interviews done — tonight is finally one of those occasions where these guys can say, “This is what it was all for.”  They play for national championships, but they also play for the Final Four.  That final destination, the final city on the long road that started back in October.  As if I had to tell you the lineup:

  • 4:30 PM ET — Kansas State vs Butler
  • 7:30 PM ET — Kentucky vs West Virginia

There’s nothing left to say.  This is for the Final Four.  That’s all you need to say.

Can’t wait.  Hope to see you around here for some conversation while we watch the games.

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.26.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 27th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Midwest Region (Tom Hager)

  • Kalin Lucas, who has a torn ACL, had his jersey hung from the cieling of Michigan State’s locker room.
  • According to Durrell Summers of Michigan State, Lucas is still motivating his teammates and giving Korie Lucious advice on playing point guard.  Lucas has put off surgery in order to stay with the team.
  • The key for Michigan State was their second-half rebounding where they dominated the glass 22-9.  The Spartans average over 39 rebounds per game.
  • Tennessee’s J.P. Prince is convinced that his block on Ohio State’s Evan Turner was clean.  The block helped the Vols advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.  Turner, who along with his other teammates did not shake hands with the Tennessee players, said that he can’t dwell on the call any longer.

West Region (Andrew Murawa)

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.25.10

Posted by THager on March 26th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Midwest Region (Tom Hager)

  • One of Michigan State’s big advantages may be in their bench production, which has been averaging nearly 25 points per game lately and runs 11 players deep.
  • According to Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson, the decision to sign the contract extension was a no-brainer.  He signed a 10-year deal that will pay well over $400,000 per season.
  • The Washington Post notes that one of the major differences in the absence of Kalin Lucas is the contrasting and free flowing style that Korie Lucious plays at.  Lucious’ 13-point total in MSU’s game against Maryland was his highest total of the season.
  • Everybody knows Ohio State’s Jon Diebler has an incredible range, but not many people know that he used to shoot for dollar bills to hone his skills.
  • Michigan State is known for being mentally tough, but Northern Iowa is not used to the national exposure they have received from their trip to the Sweet Sixteen.  Although Ali Farokhmanesh has said that the confidence he receives has always been there, he admits that the media exposure has been overwhelming.

West Region (Andrew Murawa)

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Is Kentucky Paranoia Justified?

Posted by jstevrtc on March 25th, 2010

We know it’s only a few hours before game time, but we’ve never seen a college basketball game that has divided people  or caused sportswriters to openly acknowledge for whom they were rooting as much as the Kentucky vs Cornell East Regional semifinal that happens later tonight.  It’s being billed (erroneously) as Good versus Evil, smart kids versus dumb kids (isn’t Patrick Patterson graduating after only three years?), and so on.  Some examples:

St. Petersburg Times/TampaBay.com staff writer Michael Kruse actually points to Cornell’s achievements as a model to follow to succeed in the flailing American economy (?!?), and also notes:

“The message of Cornell…is this: long view over quick fix, well-drilled over well-heeled, and sometimes smarter beats bigger.”


Boston Globe/Boston.com writer Dan Shaughnessy makes no bones about which side he’s on in his article yesterday:

“Here’s hoping Calipari and his guys take the apple in this one. Then we can tell them that Dr. Henry Heimlich is a Cornell man.”

And that’s not even the biggest slight.  We thought his mention of the Cornell seniors having to soon go out and “face a tough job market” was interesting, since there are seniors on Kentucky’s squad who will be going out into the same job market soon.  Taking umbrage to the Boston Globe article, Kentucky sports blog KentuckySportsRadio.com’s Matt Jones wrote a scathing rebuttal to the Shaughnessy piece.  Shaughnessy responded.  It then spilled over onto the radio waves, as a local Boston radio station had Shaughnessy and Jones live on the air for a debate on the issue (which was really a 3-on-1 ambush).

John Feinstein of the Washington Post also had something to say about the good vs evil angle:

“…there is no doubting the glaring contrasts between the two programs. Cornell has no media guide. Kentucky has three, including a glossy, full-color, 208-page (the maximum allowed by NCAA rules) recruiting brochure that poses as a media guide. No one asked Kentucky’s players on Wednesday what they hope to do after college because everyone knows what they hope to do after college.”

Baltimore Sun sports blogger Kevin Cowherd makes his rooting interest clear:

“Americans have always pulled for the underdog — it’s practically written into the Constitution. So how can you not root for tiny Cornell, the no. 12 seed, when it takes on mighty no. 1 seed Kentucky tonight in the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament?”

On this issue, we’ll give Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins the last word:

“It’s not a spelling bee.”


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Previewing the Cinderellas: Northern Iowa

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2010

Tim Getting is the sports editor for the Northern Iowan, and was kind enough to contribute this article on his school’s Cinderella story.

Preview – A Realization of Royalty

Entering their fifth tournament appearance in seven seasons, Northern Iowa expected to be less of a Cinderella and more of a Sleeping Beauty. They treated loyal Panther fans and unloyal Hawkeye fans to the program’s best regular season ever, winning a school-record 25 games and peaking at No. 18 in the AP Poll. They won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title outright then went on and took the MVC tournament championship too. The McLeod Center court in Cedar Falls was fully defended with a 14-0 record that included wins over Siena and Old Dominion. This was all achieved with practically the same team that nearly defeated Purdue in last March’s madness.

Selection Sunday dawned and the Panther players wore fake grins as Mr. Gumbel relayed the news that UNI earned a No. 9 seed and a potential second round matchup with the nation’s best team. It now seemed as if a charming awakening would have to be replaced with a slipper-fitting appointment if UNI had hopes of leaving Oklahoma City alive.

Dreaded or Divine SI Cover (SI/G. Nelson)

The slipper fit snug on the foot of Ali Farokhmanesh, and the Iranian Idol propelled the Panthers into the Sweet 16 with consecutive game-winning threes. So will the magic and trite princess metaphors last another round? That will be answered Friday as UNI takes on Michigan State in St. Louis.

Overview

Friday’s game provides a unique coaching showdown in an old pro and young gun who impart physical mentalities on their cowpoke (yes, we have progressed from a princess to a cowboy metaphor). Michigan State coach Tom Izzo holsters a 33-11 tournament record while appearing in his third-straight Sweet 16. His boys specialize in boards where they boast the country’s best rebounding margin at +8.7. Coach Jacobson leads his herd into its first-ever Sweet 16, priding his Panthers on defense as their scoring defense (55 ppg) is the nation’s second-best.

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RTC (Sorta) Live: Sweet Sixteen Day One

Posted by jstevrtc on March 25th, 2010

It’s here.  We’ve endured the three-day layoff and it’s time for more hoops.  We know you already know, but here’s our lineup for today in the order in which they’ll be showing up on our screens:

  • #1 Syracuse vs #5 Butler
  • #2 West Virginia vs #11 Washington
  • #2 Kansas State vs #6 Xavier
  • #1 Kentucky vs #12 Cornell

Everyone’s been talking about Cornell  (and Northern Iowa in the Midwest) — and well they should — but we doubt Butler, Xavier, and Washington will go quietly.  That’s how great this tournament has been; because of the achievements of teams like Cornell and Northern Iowa, we’ve heard next to nothing about what Xavier and Washington have done! Syracuse will not have Arinze Onuaku and you’ve heard about the Darryl Bryant injury by now, so we expect the Huskies will try to make life difficult for Joe Mazzulla.  It should be an amazing four games tonight, to say the least, and we’ll crank up the live window (located after the jump) about 15 minutes before the first tip.  We hope that as you watch the games you’ll join us for some live discussion, as well.  It’s Sweet Sixteen time!

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Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis: Thursday Night

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2010

Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional semifinal games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Thursday night’s games from the East and West Regionals.

7:07 pm – #1 Syracuse vs. #5 Butler  (West Region)

We’re starting to worry about this Arinze Onuaku situation.  Sooner or later, Jim Boeheim’s team is going to need the 11 points, five rebounds and general defensive anchor support on the front line that the 6’9, 260-pound big man provides.  Rick Jackson is a serviceable replacement, but the fact that Onuaku reportedly hasn’t even suited up in practice since his injury against Georgetown on March 11 is cause for alarm.  Even if Syracuse survives to advance to next weekend’s Final Four, how productive could he possibly be?  So far, Syracuse hasn’t shown a need for him yet.  The Orange ran over Vermont and Gonzaga without breathing all that hard thanks to the superb play of Wesley Johnson and friends, but there will be a team in the very near future where they’ll need more than Jackson alone can provide.

That team will not be playing SU in the Sweet Sixteen, however.  Butler is an excellent team and Brad Stevens has gotten players other than Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard to step up this season, most notably Shelvin Mack who went 9-12 from long range in the San Jose pod against UTEP and Murray State.  Syracuse is not UTEP or Murray, though, and the wide-open looks that Mack was getting in those games will no longer be as readily available thanks to the length and quickness of the Orange’s perimeter defenders.  Furthermore, Butler center Matt Howard has enough trouble staying out of foul trouble against Horizon League teams; it’s not realistic to think that he’ll be able to play 30+ effective minutes against Jackson, Johnson and Kris Joseph inside.  The main problem we foresee is that Butler is not a very good offensive team in general — when Hayward and Mack aren’t firing on all cylinders, the Bulldogs have trouble scoring points.  Add that to the fact they’ll be facing one of the best offensive teams in America, and you have a situation where numerous things need to go exactly right for Butler to get this win tonight.  Even without Onuaku on the floor for another game, we just don’t see Butler finding enough offense to win this game.

The Skinny: The last time the Bulldogs made it this deep into the NCAAs, they ran into a long, athletic team by the name of Florida in 2007.  They played the defending and future national champions as closely as they were played in that tournament thanks to their control of the tempo, strong defense and  attention to detail, but it still wasn’t enough because the Florida offensive attack was simply too good.  We think the same thing will happen in this game.  Syracuse has too many weapons for the Butler defense to key in on all of them, and even if they catch SU on an off night, where will the Butler points come from?

7:27 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #11 Washington  (East Region)

Most prognosticators felt that Washington had Sweet 16 talent coming into this season. Lorenzo Romar was returning reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Isaiah Thomas, defensive stalwart Venoy Overton and a forward named Quincy Pondexter ripe for a breakout season. While Pondexter’s prediction panned out, guard play was shaky, road wins were hard to come by, and the Huskies found themselves on the NCAA bubble with seven losses in a weak Pac-10. A conference tournament win punched their ticket, though, and the Huskies have taken advantage of the opportunity, erasing a double-digit second half lead to beat Marquette and wiping the floor with Mountain West champion New Mexico. Their toughest test yet will come Thursday against Big East Tournament champion West Virginia. Washington needs to produce a near carbon copy of their performance against New Mexico. In other words, they need to play a near-perfect game. Thomas must keep his head on straight and continue to make outside jumpers. Overton must frustrate Da’Sean Butler, Elston Turner must continue to produce offensively and Pondexter must out-duel Devin Ebanks.

For West Virginia, Washington seems like a favorable matchup. They may have preferred Joe Mazzulla guarding Isaiah Thomas more than the sidelined Darryl Bryant anyway. Mazzulla is the superior defender and Bryant has been woeful shooting-wise the last three weeks. They also match up well with the length of Washington. Bob Huggins can throw a lineup out on the floor of players 6’6 or above with huge wingspans, meaning the long WVU defense could fluster Pondexter and force him into difficult shots. One possible negative to the Bryant injury is that it increases the likelihood that the Mountaineer offense will become too reliant on Butler to bail them out. He’s done it time and time again this season and in postseason tournament play. Does he have more magic up his sleeve?

The Skinny: West Virginia has a plethora of defenders that can frustrate Pondexter and they boast the best late-game scorer in the nation in Butler. That combination should prove enough to take care of Washington in fairly methodical fashion. Avoiding their typical slow start would be prudent.

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