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 Butler Bulldogs and their incredible run to back-to-back Final Fours.
Crucial Tourney Moments: Unlike last season when the Bulldogs pulled away from UTEP, Syracuse and Kansas State late in games to advance to the Final Four, each step towards Houston this season has been decided by one or two crucial plays Butler turns to their advantage. There’s Shawn Vanzant throwing the ball off the backboard that eventually resulted in a Matt Howard layup just before the horn to beat Old Dominion. There’s Gilbert Brown missing the second of two free throws in a tie game that opened the door for Nasir Robinson’s brain cramp for the annals. How about Howard corralling an offensive rebound to finally put to bed the Badgers after a ferocious rally or Butler’s little-used freshman Chrishawn Hopkins finding Howard on a key assist and draining a huge three from the left wing when it appeared Florida was about to pull away? These types of winning plays have defined Butler in their two unfathomable March runs.
Advantage Area: Both Butler and VCU are strikingly similar when it comes to efficiency ratings, but where Butler stands out if the game is close is their ball screen action with Shelvin Mack and his proficiency in one-on-one situations late in the shot clock. While VCU’s point guard Joey Rodriguez is more of a distributor and their wings are superior in catch-and-shoot situations, Mack has the ability to operate in “take ‘em” situations when the offensive set has crumbled, the shot clock is heading towards single digits and Butler badly needs a basket. While Mack has struggled percentage-wise with his shot this season, he carried the Bulldogs in their upset of Pitt and his one-on-one prowess was never better exemplified than in the waning second of Butler’s Elite Eight win over Florida when a pick-and-roll resulted in a switch and Mack pulled up for a dagger three. VCU doesn’t have one designated player to match Mack basket-for-basket late in a one or two possession contest. Butler is also extremely physical defensively and their ball screen defense was a huge reason for their win over ball-screen heavy Florida.
Potential Downfall: While Butler didn’t turn the ball over with great abundance all year, they never had to test their mettle against a full court press as capable as VCU’s during their conference season or NCAA Tournament run. The Rams will trot out their 1-2-1-1 press in an attempt to speed the tempo and force turnovers after made shots and, if the final five minutes of Butler’s Sweet 16 near-collapse against Wisconsin was any indication, Brad Stevens needs to spend some practice time this week gearing up for VCU’s full court pressure. It’ll be imperative for Mack and fellow guards Shawn Vanzant and Ronald Nored to focus on ball security and not allow the Rams to dictate tempo. Their press befuddled Kansas at times on Sunday and that built-up fatigue was clearly evident in KU’s jump shooting woes.