Morning Five: 11.30.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2010

  1. The biggest news of Monday was of course that in the interminable quest for more football dollars, Texas Christian University (TCU to most of us) will join the Big East starting in the 2012-13 season.  That makes seventeen Big East basketball schools if you’re counting at home.  Yes, the league that in large part made college basketball what it is today — with hundreds of ESPN games and the star-making powers all of it entails — is now chasing skirts in a region of the country over a thousand miles removed from its nearest member institution.  Presumably the league will now look into adding another school like Houston to lock up another major media market as the 18th hoops (and tenth football) school, and then there’s the possible addition of Villanova football should they choose to do so, but where does it end?  Does it go to twenty basketball schools by adding Memphis and Central Florida?  And what about the Big East Tournament — nobody was a fan of the double-bye system before; do we move to a triple-bye now?  How would you like to be the #20 seed in your conference tournament?  David Steele over at Fanhouse has a nice piece on how the ACC and Big East, two conferences that were to basketball what the SEC and old SWC were to football, have completely lost their hoops souls with football-driven expansion.  Luke Winn also breaks down what the addition of TCU will do (or won’t do) for the Big East from a hoops perspective — he makes an excellent point about Marquette’s recruiting prospects improving with a Texas team in tow.  Can’t say we disagree wither either’s takes at all.
  2. Condolences go out this morning to John Calipari and his family, as the Kentucky coach announced via Twitter that he lost his mother, Donna, to a battle with cancer on Monday.  Calipari does not expect to miss the Wildcats’ next game versus Boston University tonight, and we’ve heard rumors that Kentucky students will exhibit some unifying show of solidarity through the wearing of black shirts or something similar.  Nice touch.
  3. Seth Davis goes out on a shaky limb with his proclamation Monday that UConn’s Kemba Walker has been the best player in America through the first four weeks of the season.  Ok, not really, but as always, his Hoops Thoughts column is well worth the read.  Can we use this opportunity to say that having sat through three UConn games in Maui last week, we’re not as sold on the Huskies and Walker long-term as some others seem to be?  We think that UConn is a nice team — probably an NCAA Tournament team — but top ten?  We’re just not seeing it.
  4. Butler’s Ronald Nored will miss at least one game as a result of the concussion he suffered last weekend at Siena.  The Bulldogs’ next game is Wednesday in their Horizon League opener on the road against 7-0 Loyola (Chicago).  He’s questionable for Saturday’s game against top-ranked Duke as well.  With Butler not playing very well as it is, these next two games are fairly important, so it’s not a good time for Nored to be on the shelf.
  5. Bruce Pearl certainly knows how to play to an audience.  At a Knoxville Quarterback Club dinner on Monday night he mentioned former UT football coach Lane Kiffin in reference to having made mistakes and “hoping for… some other dumbass to take [me] off the front page.”  The dumbass in question, of course, was Kiffin.  Perhaps the funniest part of this series of quotes by Pearl was his reference to the “slippery rock theory,” which we suppose is a theory founded somewhere in central Pennsylvania (as opposed to its better-known but obstructionist cousin, the “slippery slope” theory).
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After the Buzzer: On 800 Wins, Internet Humility, and Fantastic Freshmen

Posted by jstevrtc on November 24th, 2010

Your Watercooler Moment. Yeesh, take your pick. On Wednesday morning the two games the majority of hoop aficianados were most looking forward to from Tuesday night will yield the headlines to a so-called undercard matchup between #3 Michigan State and Connecticut, the latter a team slated to be foraging for leftover scraps in the Big East this year. Jim Calhoun beamed after the effort shown by his players in knocking off the Spartans, saying after the game, “We proved to the world that we can play.” Also in Maui, the Kentucky vs Washington matchup was so intense they played through a freaking 4.7-on-the-Richter scale earthquake that nobody in the building seemed to notice centered 30 miles south-southwest of the island, and four time zones away, Duke gave Kansas State false hope for a half before turning out their lights and inscribing Mike Krzyzewski into the 800 victories book for a single school. Oh, and a game between Appalachian State and Tennessee Tech was cancelled because the former forgot to provide refs. All of this, a feast before the feast…on the day the Spectrum died.

Onward And Upward -- Coach K Earned His 800th Duke Win On Tuesday

Tuesday’s Quick Hits…

  • Connecticut Has A Pulse. And it’s strong. And its name is Kemba Walker. In 38 minutes of floor time in the Huskies’ capsizing of #3 Michigan State, Walker went 10-19 from the floor, 6-7 from the line, and added three boards, four assists, and three steals to his 30 points. Who cares that a kid’s getting up a shot every two minutes of game time when he’s producing like this?
  • Kyrie Lays It On. Kyrie Irving smoked Jacob Pullen as if the latter were a finely aged Cohiba Siglo. He took Pullen to the bucket several times, scored or got to the line, twice producing and-ones. Irving saw other defenders, but it was Pullen in front of him a good deal of the night; this matchup saw the freshman wood-shedding the senior to the tune of 17/5/6 asst/2 steals.
  • Unsung Wildcat Heroes, Take One. The talk will be about Terrence Jones‘ 16/17 (4-13 from the field) and Brandon Knight’s 24 points (he also had zero assists and eight turnovers), but the best line on the Wildcats’ side may have come from Josh Harrellson, the backup center many UK fans felt could barely qualify to be Enes Kanter’s personal assistant before the season. Harrellson had troubles with his handle, but in 34 minutes he contributed nine points on 4-6 shooting (one of those a trey), blocked two shots, and pulled in 14 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive end. DeAndre Liggins only added seven points and four rebounds, but he smothered UW’s Isaiah Thomas for most of the second half, frustrating him to no end (on which more in a bit).
  • Unsung Wildcat Heroes, Take Two. The only bright spot from KSU’s defeat was the play of their reserves. Four players — namely Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels, Martavious Irving, and Will Spradling — played at least 13 minutes (three of them were in for 20+), and they accounted for 47 of K-State’s 68 points, shooting 18-29 (62%) from the field. Could there be lineup changes in store for Frank Martin’s squad?

…and Misses.

  • Kalin, Not His Usual Ballin’. No particular player could be singled out as really letting MSU down, but Kalin Lucas would love another crack at this one. The Spartans actually shot better than UConn, but Lucas’ head-scratcher of a night consisted of a 4-12 shooting night, five turnovers and but a single assist. There won’t be many nights like this for Lucas this season.
  • The Sprint Center Floor. We had the privilege of being in the Sprint Center for the Big 12 Tournament last year. It’s a great arena for college basketball. Plenty of press seating, helpful staff, and even the distant seats in the stands aren’t bad. But for the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic tonight, its floor had ten temporary logos on it, causing it to resemble one of those NASCAR automobiles (I guess they do race for the Sprint Cup, don’t they?) or a jersey from an Australian pro league team.
  • Smeared the Beard. Jacob Pullen not only got schooled by a freshman in terms of how many times he got taken to the hole, but he couldn’t hit an elephant with a handful of rice on Tuesday night. Pullen will not have many 1-12 nights this year, and likely none in which he also throws in a defensive clanger like he did on Tuesday. But big games like this are not the time for these rare occasions to occur for the facially hirsute and usually excellent senior.
  • Isaiah Was No Prophet. When the Maui brackets were released a few months ago, Isaiah Thomas tweeted that he was hoping his squad would run into Kentucky, a sentiment fueled by the bolting of recruits Kanter and Jones to UK after committing to UW. The Wildcats’ DeAndre Liggins intercalated himself into Thomas’ DNA on Tuesday, and as a result the UW guard was flummoxed into a 4-14 shooting night, two of those buckets coming as cosmetic late layups when UK let its defensive intensity slip a notch in hopes of not fouling.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.16.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 16th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Tonight’s slate is loaded with quality games, mostly from the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

#21 Virginia Tech @ #3 Kansas State – 4 pm on ESPN (*****)

Seth Greenberg decided to beef up his non-conference schedule this year after being left out of the last few NCAA Tournaments and this may be his team’s toughest test. The Hokies enter the Octagon of Doom looking to make a statement and ease any NCAA bubble worries, at least temporarily. Most prognosticators say Virginia Tech will be a lot better than the bubble but that thought has to creep into the back of some fans’ minds at times. Led by Malcolm Delaney, four seniors return and all are starters. Kansas State has had some problems early on as coach Frank Martin benched senior Curtis Kelly against James Madison on Friday for not practicing with energy and needing to be a better teammate. His status for today’s game is unknown. Point guard is also a question for the Wildcats as Denis Clemente has moved on. All-American candidate Jacob Pullen can play the point but is better off the ball. K-State seemed to play point guard by committee in their first game as Pullen, Nick Russell, Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving combined for all 14 of the team’s assists. Kansas State shot only 53% from the free throw line, a problem that plagued them all of last season. Both teams like to play fast but also can get after it defensively as each finished in the top 20 in defensive efficiency last season. Virginia Tech is not a particularly good shooting team so that could play right into the hands of an active Wildcat defense encouraged by their energized crowd. The Hokies may have an issue with depth, especially early in the season when they’re trying to establish a rotation. With J.T. Thompson lost for the season and Cadarian Raines still out with a foot injury, Greenberg is down to seven major contributors. He’ll need freshman Jarell Eddie and Erick Green to step up and become threats off the bench. Kansas State needs to protect the ball and defend well in order to win. Va Tech was fifth nationally in steals and 36th in turnover percentage last year so they’ll be ready to exploit the uncertain K-State point guard situation. Virginia Tech may not have enough shooting to win this one but if Kelly is out, the door will be open for the Hokies to grab an important road victory.

#3 Ohio State @ #8 Florida – 6 pm on ESPN (*****)

ESPN wants to open Louisville’s new arena in prime time but this is really the marquee game of the Tip-Off Marathon. It features a Florida team that returns all five starters and is the trendy pick to win the SEC East and possibly make the final four. Ohio State, a final four favorite, returns four starters of its own and adds super impact freshman Jared Sullinger in the paint. Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have a good blend of youth and experience and are incredibly deep as a result of their terrific recruiting class. If you like three pointers then this is your game. Florida loves to shoot the three and so does the Ohio State backcourt led by Jon Diebler. The Gators struggled a bit in their opening win over UNC-Wilmington as they allowed the Seahawks to shoot 48% from the floor. Florida only shot 32% from behind the arc and they’ll need to do better than that if they hope to beat Ohio State. They’re also going to need players to contribute off the bench because as good as their starters are, you can’t rely on five players to carry your team. Erik Murphy should be the best bet, though a talented group of freshman should see their minutes increase as they settle into their roles in Billy Donovan’s system. Donovan, a Rick Pitino disciple, plays an up-tempo system that emphasizes pressing and three point shooting. For Florida to execute the press properly, they need a fresh stream of bodies coming in and out of the game. While that’s not as important in a single game, depth issues will take their toll as the season moves along. Ohio State is absolutely loaded with a powerful backcourt, frontcourt and bench. Diebler can flat out stroke it from deep and guys like Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty add toughness and experience to their rotation. Florida needs a good game from senior leader Chandler Parsons and they just can’t afford to have Kenny Boynton go without a three again as he did against UNCW. The Buckeyes throttled North Carolina A&T in their opener behind 24/8 from freshman DeShaun Thomas. Another solid game from him or another OSU freshman could push them to an impressive road victory in the hostile O-Dome. This will be an unbelievably competitive and hard fought game but Ohio State’s depth and talent advantage gives them a great shot to earn a road win that will help build their resume for a possible #1 seed.

#12 Butler @ Louisville – 8pm on ESPN (****)

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RTC Conference Primers: #13 – Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 23rd, 2010

Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Butler (15-3)
  2. Cleveland State (12-6)
  3. Detroit (12-6)
  4. Milwaukee (11-7)
  5. Valparaiso (9-9)
  6. Wright State (9-9)
  7. Green Bay (8-10)
  8. UIC (7-11)
  9. Loyola (5-13)
  10. Youngstown State (2-16)

All-Conference Team

  • G: Shelvin Mack, Butler
  • G: Norris Cole, Cleveland State
  • F: Cory Johnson, Valparaiso
  • F: Matt Howard, Butler
  • C: Eli Holman, Detroit

6th Man

G: Brandon Wood, Valparaiso

Impact Newcomer

Paul Carter (F), UIC

What does Brad Stevens and Butler have in mind for an encore after their run to the title game?

What You Need To Know

  • All Horizon League games and most non-conference home games will be streamed live at HorizonLeague.org, the conference’s website.  All games are free and the feed is television quality in most arenas.  It’s a service that has been around since 2007, and has expanded every year to be an all-encompassing athletics powerhouse for information, features and interviews on Horizon League basketball.  By now, if you haven’t heard about Butler‘s run through the NCAA Tournament, you’re probably still counting your hours of free America Online.
  • What most people don’t realize is how strong the conference is behind Butler. Yes, the Bulldogs ran roughshod over the conference, going 18-0 and paving their way to the title game in dominant fashion, but they had victories against the seventh and eighth place teams by a combined three points.  It’s a deep league through the top seven programs, and even UIC, who finished ninth last year, looks to be strong this season.  The Detroit Titans were seventh place despite posting a 20-win season, one of five Horizon League programs to do so.
  • It is a guard-oriented league, but post players like Matt Howard, Eli Holman, Anthony Hill and Andy Polka have proven that they can bang with the big boys.

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The RTC Interview Series: One On One With Brad Stevens

Posted by jstevrtc on September 10th, 2010

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we hope to publish weekly on Friday mornings throughout the year. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

It used to be that the first thing that people thought when they saw Butler head coach Brad Stevens was something along the lines of, “He’s a head coach? How old is he?” That changed on April 5th. By saying things changed for him after the title-game loss to Duke, we’re not saying that Stevens looks any older. We’re saying that now people will think of him primarily as one of the best coaches in our game instead of just a young-looking basketball coach, though Stevens would be the first to deflect such praise. When you talk with Brad Stevens (whose three teams have produced three perfect academic ratings, by the way), you are immediately aware of what seems to be an innate professionalism, and the fact that this man is much more comfortable talking about his team than himself, making sure that any incoming credit goes to everyone, not just him. Most of all, though, you recognize his absolutely inflexible belief in the abstract concept known as The Butler Way, that it’s, in fact, the best way for him to grow as a coach and for his players to function as the best team possible. RTC’s John Stevens (no relation) spoke with Coach Stevens earlier this week.

Rush The Court: Coach, as the current guardian of it, in your own words, what is “The Butler Way?”

Brad Stevens: You know, I don’t think it has anything to do with basketball, technically, first of all. I think it’s just about embracing a culture of (hopefully) unselfishness and accountability, and that doing the right things will lead to the results you ultimately want from a statistical and measurable standpoint. The definition we have online is probably the best it gets. Right when you go to ButlerSports.com, it pops up. But that’s the bottom line. If you’re going to define it, that’s as good as it gets. I think it’s a really hard thing to define, and it’s more about feeling and seeing that you’re moving in a positive direction.

After Only Three Seasons as Head Coach at Butler, In Our Opinion Stevens Is Already Part of the Coaching Elite.

RTC: Last year was in so many ways a dream season, and even though you didn’t quite achieve the ultimate goal for which you set out, it was obviously a phenomenal run. Was there any particular aspect of your squad’s play that showed up as the year progressed that even you hadn’t expected, something that pleasantly surprised even you, as coach?

BS: No particular individual did, and not really from a team standpoint, either, from how we were playing. I think from a results standpoint the thing that stood out to me, the thing I thought was the best accomplishment of the year was going undefeated in the league. I’ve never been a part of that and never dreamed that I would be, and I know how hard it is to do. You know, like everybody else, I’m listening to talk shows and everybody’s talking about Boise State’s schedule and everything else, and I’ve been in those shoes from the standpoint of…boy, the pressure that they play with in their league AND the fact that, everybody they’re playing against, that’s their super bowl. You can’t quantify that. That should add points to their strength of schedule. So I think that that’s something I’ll look back at fondly from last year. Obviously you’re excited about the run to the final game. But is it better to beat five really good teams that don’t know much about you, or is it better to beat every team on your league schedule twice, teams that know you inside and out? For me, it was the latter.

RTC: The Horizon League seems to be adding better recruits each season, players who are then developed over several years by their coaches; it seems the quality of that particular conference has improved each year over the past few…

BS: I think that’s the case. I agree with you that it’s getting better, but at the same time I think it’s been really good all along. When we do what we’ve done in the tournament, and when other teams win games here or there I think that always helps the perception [of the conference].

RTC: How long did it take you to get over the championship game, the Duke game?

BS: I’ll never get over it! I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that, I wish I could. I think obviously that you always move on, but it’s a hard pill to swallow.

Stevens' Bulldogs Held Their First Five NCAA Tourney Opponents (Including Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State) to Under 60 Points. Duke Scored 61.

RTC: I remember that the Sports Science guys broke it down and found that, looking at where it hit the backboard, the last shot by Gordon Hayward would have gone in but for a mere 2.5 inches. I assumed you’d still be seeing that shot in your sleep.

BS: (Laughs) There’s no doubt, I see it in my sleep. But, that’s part of it. We were so fortunate to be there in a lot of ways.

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Kentucky Cleans Up To Open Spring Signing Period

Posted by jstevrtc on April 14th, 2010

It’s the first day of the spring signing period, and we saw a few of the top remaining undecided high school seniors choose a cap (or jersey) and commit to a college today.  Two of them were surprises only insofar as they’re big-time recruits who decided to attend mid-major schools, but it was Kentucky that made the most noise today.  This info came mostly from the ESPN-U broadcast, so we’re showing each player’s overall rating in the ESPNU-100 Class of 2010 in parentheses:

The biggest verbal of the day was no surprise, since the buzz about it had long preceded the actual announcement.  Point guard Brandon Knight (4), a 6’5 lightning bolt who can score as well as he leads, pulled out a blue cap and committed to play for John Calipari at Kentucky.  He joins Enes Kanter (25) and Stacey Poole (51) in a Wildcat class for next year that might not yet be complete.  The bill of Knight’s UK baseball cap already had a major curve to it, confirming what everyone already knew — this decision was made a long time ago.  Later in the day, the top prospect in the class of 2011, 6’7 small forward Michael Gilchrist also verballed to Kentucky, further ensuring that there will be virtually no hangover after the honeymoon season of Wall/Cousins/Patterson/Bledsoe.

Knight follows another blue-clad wearer of #11.

In a class top-heavy with excellent point guards, two mid-majors scored fine floor-leaders this afternoon.  6’1 PG Ray McCallum (17) decided to stay home and play for his father at Detroit, and 6’5 SG Trey Zeigler (33) — sporting the greatest full windsor knot we’ve ever seen, with apologies to ESPN-U workhorse Lowell Galindo — continued the father-son trend in the state of Michigan by donning a Central Michigan cap.  Zeigler’s father Ernie is the coach for the Chippewas.  Zeigler specifically cited Butler’s run to the championship game this past season as one of the reasons he was comfortable in playing for a mid-major program.  There’s no question that the chance to play for their respective fathers was an incentive for these gentlemen to commit where they did, but it will be an interesting thing to watch over the next couple of years as to whether or not other top-flight recruits pull the trigger on staying close to home at other mid-major schools, especially if another small program can equal or even surpass Butler’s achievements from 2009-2010.

Speaking of the Bulldogs, we should note here that Gordon Hayward has decided to submit his name for consideration in this year’s NBA Draft, but he won’t be hiring an agent anytime soon.  Butler supporters — and there are definitely legions more, after this past season — will be sweating out Hayward’s decision-making process this summer; the Bulldogs will lose Willie Veasley and Avery Jukes to graduation, which is substantial.  Hayward’s departure would make a trip to Houston next April all but impossible.  If he comes back, though, that means the Hayward/Shelvin Mack/Matt Howard/Ronald Nored nucleus would all be returning, and we’re confident that coach Brad Stevens can groom players to fill the spaces left by Veasley and Jukes.  Butler has no commitments within the top 100, but we doubt Stevens is sweating.

Sullinger, a Columbus native, already has the Buckeye staff smiling. (G. Housteau)

Marquette took a step in replacing the graduated Lazar Hayward today by signing 6’6 SF/PF Jae Crowder, the junior college player of the year.  Crowder averaged almost 19 PPG and led Howard College (TX) to the juco title this year.  This one had been known for some time, but Marquette coach Buzz Williams made the official announcement today.

Despite Kentucky’s recruiting haul today, as it pertains to the class of 2010, the top rating still belongs to Ohio State.  They’re extremely excited about getting 6’8 PF Jared Sullinger (2) on campus (as well they should be), in addition to 6’8 SF Deshaun Thomas (12), 6’4 SG Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (80), and 6’4 SG Jordan Sibert (82).  North Carolina isn’t far behind, with Roy Williams bringing in the top-ranked player in the class in 6’8 SF Harrison Barnes (1), 6’6 SG Reggie Bullock (18), and 6’4 PG Kendall Marshall (22).  With Kentucky rumored to be leading for at least two other players within the top 30, and eight players in the top 100 still undecided, the matter of who has the best recruiting class could be altered as soon as this Saturday at the Jordan Brand Classic in New York City, where more players are expected to announce their college intentions.

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Why the Bulldogs Will Win It All…

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2010

We asked writers from each of the four Final Four schools to provide us with a persuasive article on why their team will win it all this coming weekend.  Steven Peek of The Butler Collegian tells us that Butler isn’t satisfied with merely making the Final Four — they’re going all the way.

Many basketball programs use past national championships as an argument for why they are contenders in future seasons.  So would it be fair to say that Butler has a chance to win the 2010 NCAA Championship because they won the national titles in the 1923-24 and 1928-29 seasons?  No? OK then, let’s move beyond that fact.

The main reason why Butler could win the 2010 NCAA Tournament is because they are truly a unit, one single force moving past the competition. This can be seen in many facets of the game.  First, Butler’s mentality is team-based. Gordon Hayward confirms this in his hit single “Too Big Yo,” in which he raps how “it’s not about me / it’s about the team.”

Butler had no candidates for National Player of the Year remaining by the time the tournament began. While many may believe this to be a weakness, the bracket says otherwise.  Are the Ohio State Evan Turners still in the tournament? Nope.  Are the Kentucky John Walls still playing? Again, no.  How about the Syracuse Wes Johnsons? Butler took care of them.

Butler Can Beat Anybody (IndyStar/S. Riche)

Butler has had little national press coverage due to their lack of outspoken individuals. In fact, although they were ranked No. 10 nationally in the preseason polls, few people gave them credit as the 24-game winning streak built.  Butler should also be considered a legitimate title contender because of their defense.  In a press conference in San Jose, Calif., senior forward Willie Veasley talked about playing defense with the mindset of 5-on-1 (Butler versus the man with the ball). Using that mentality, Butler held its NCAA tournament opponents to a 56.5 points per game average, with all four teams being held to under 60 points.  Sophomore guard Ronald Nored has 12 steals this tournament, five of which came against No 1.-seeded Syracuse, a team that many analysts thought would tear through Butler.

But the Bulldogs have been no stranger to being underrated.  On this very subject, Nored has said, “It’s not an underestimation, it’s a misunderstanding.”  Being underrated makes the Bulldogs that much stronger.  Butler’s bench players have also been propelling the No. 5 seed through the tournament.  Butler’s bench has been big this tournament, granting new life to the court when the play of starters needed to be energized.

The scoring of juniors Zach Hahn and Shawn Vanzant has been important, as has the defense of senior Avery Jukes and freshman Andrew Smith. I personally watched Vanzant orchestrate three fast breaks in the first half against UTEP, who had Butler’s offense stagnant at first.  And because the bench is able to enter the game and continue or steal back momentum, diverse scoring is a part of the recent success.  When the pressure of the NCAA tournament rises, Butler has had someone to step up. In its four tournament games, Butler has had three different leading scorers—Gordon Hayward (twice), Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored.  Also, Butler has had at least five players with at least four points in all four games.

And naturally, the home court factor should not be overlooked. Lucas Oil Stadium (a.k.a. Hinkle Fieldhouse South) is only a skip and a hop away from Butler’s campus.  That’s important because the Bulldogs went 15-0 at Hinkle this season. Those 15 wins include victories against NCAA tournament competitors Ohio State, Xavier and Siena.  The Bulldog bandwagon has been growing in number since other “underdogs” and Indiana teams dropped from the bracket.  The local crowd will certainly be supporting Butler and will likely outnumber any group of Michigan State, West Virginia or Duke fans.

Michigan State will surely be a tough opponent for Butler Saturday. Tom Izzo is a coaching legend and for good reason. Playing for him is essentially a guarantee to compete in at least one Final Four.  Nonetheless, the talents of Butler head coach Brad Stevens and his staff are not to be written off due to their youth. They are humble and dedicated, as reflected in the performance of their players.  All of the above is cause to count on Butler to not disappoint this weekend, whether it’s against the Spartans in the Final Four or against the next opponent in the national championship game.

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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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San Jose Pod Daily Diary: 03.20.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 20th, 2010

We’ve got two pretty cool matchups today here in San Jose.  First, we’ll start with the strange situation of everyone’s favorite giant-killer, #5 seed Butler, acting as the heavy favorite over #13 seed Murray State, who of course advanced on Thursday when Danero Thomas’ shot at the horn against Vandy dropped.  In the second game, we’ll enjoy the Pac-10 renaissance for at least another game, as #11 Washington will try to continue its hot streak (now eight Ws in a row) against #3 New Mexico.  We’ll be checking back in throughout the day with our thoughts on the games.

Game 1: #5 Butler vs. #13 Murray State

1st Half

  • Getting ready to come out for the tip of this game, I got into a conversation with two of the young female intern-types who were helping out with the drinks for media.  They were discussing whom to root for in this game, and one said to the other: “well, you have to go with the underdog, Murray.”  Sensing a teaching moment (hey, Scottie), I said, “yeah isn’t it interesting that Butler is the favorite when they’re usually the giant-killer and Murray is the underdog now?”  They were both amazed with that role-reversal and asked a bunch of questions about it.  But it illustrates a point about programs such as Butler and Gonzaga — there comes a tipping point where you’re no longer viewed as the plucky little team anymore, and I think Butler is close to getting there (Gonzaga has been there for years).
  • Butler came out off to a great start 12-3 as Murray State looked a little off kilter, which is to be expected coming off a great win like they had on Thursday.  But eventually they got their sea legs under them and were able to start getting some stops.
  • It’s always interesting to watch The Butler Way…  they take care of the ball; they look for open teammates; they crash the boards; they contest every shot.  Rarely will you see a shot out of the offense, although I did count a couple of them this half.
  • Murray’s defense really picked up about mid-half and it showed in that Butler ended up shooting a horrid 8-28 from the field (29%).  The Bulldogs were held scoreless for the last 6:24 of the first half.  In that time, Murray went on a 9-0 run.  That may not sound like much, but in a game trending toward the 50s, that’s a huge disparity.
  • It took a while to figure out, but the crowd is definitely pro-Murray State.  Again, that’s just weird.  Usually Butler is the team that has the non-partisans on their side.  Ed Daniel’s follow jam with about a minute left on the break really brought the house down.  If this stays close down the stretch, definite home advantage to Murray.
  • I’ve been very impressed with Murray’s Isaiah Canaan in this pod so far.  He has 8 points and has a real swagger about him like nobody can stop him offensively.  Only a freshman and six feet tall standing on a phone book, he is undoubtedly going to be a star in this program the next few years.
  • Coming into the second half, I’m reminded of how Butler had played so poorly in the first half on Thursday, but then used the first five minutes of the second half to completely put UTEP under.  Will that happen again today?  I somehow don’t think it will.  I just don’t see Murray getting as frustrated into making poor decisions as UTEP did the other day.  I really like the poise of this Racer team.

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RTC Class Schedule 2009-10: Butler Bulldogs

Posted by zhayes9 on October 13th, 2009

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This is my last installation of the RTC Class Schedule series. Here are the first nine:

The nightmare for mid-major haters out there has been realized: Butler will be a top ten- yes, top ten- team for the next two full seasons. Their starting backcourt of Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are both sophomores. One of the best frontcourts in the nation- post presence Matt Howard and inside-outside stud Gordon Hayward- is a junior and sophomore, respectively, with neither likely to enter the NBA Draft before four years at Butler. They lose two seniors who receive regular minutes after this season with swingman Willie Veasley (8.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and forward Avery Jukes (3.2 PPG) departing, but neither should pose a crippling loss. Sharpshooter Zach Hahn (41% 3pt) is just a junior and backup guard Shawn Vanzant is a junior, as well. Coach Brad Stevens has lured the #32 center in the nation Andrew Smith into the fray for this year and the #22 small forward in the country Khyle Marshall for 2010. The Bulldogs are loaded for the foreseeable future and should run roughshod over the respectable Horizon League, possibly beginning a historical conference run for the next two campaigns beginning with a visit from rival Valparaiso on December 5.

Butler has a realistic shot at a top-three seed in the NCAA tournament and backed up their high standing with a challenging non-conference slate coupled with a Horizon League schedule that has Hinkle Fieldhouse inhibitors wondering if undefeated is possible within the conference. Let’s dig deeper into the path Butler must take in hopes of being the first mid-major to reach the Final Four since George Mason in 2006.

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Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 8.5. The Bulldogs will be challenged in mid-November when they make a trip to fringe-NCAA contender Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats return star forward Kevin Coble and his perimeter shooting along with senior point guard Michael Thompson. They have hopes of making the field of 65 for the first time in school history. Butler enters the most difficult preseason tournament this season in Anaheim with a tremendous first round game against Big Ten contender Minnesota (returns nearly everyone including freshman Royce White entering) and a possible second round contest against UCLA. Potential top-ten team West Virginia looms in a possible championship game along with Texas A&M and Clemson. Butler also welcomes a bolstered Ohio State team to Hinkle followed by a visit a week later from Xavier and new coach Chris Mack. Butler also faces Georgetown- featuring Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe- to headline the Jimmy V Classic in NYC and travels to rebuilding UAB. Even with the high standards at Butler, that’s a hell of a non-conference schedule for a mid-major.

Cupcake City: The frosting isn’t too heavy for Butler. Stevens does have a return game from Davidson, who obviously won’t be nearly as lethal without Stephen Curry. Evansville has some decent pieces- and Butler must travel there- but the Aces shouldn’t challenge Butler too long. A short trip to Ball State also looms as less-than-imposing. That said, those 300+ RPI teams that most teams stack at least a few times on their non-conference slate is lacking from Butler’s schedule. Once again, give Brad Stevens tremendous credit.

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Checking in on the… Horizon League

Posted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2008

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Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.

LET US EAT TURKEY, STUFFING, AND ALL THOSE OTHER THANKSGIVING-Y DELIGHTS

Can you smell it?  I can.  I could smell it a month ago.  No, no…not college basketball season.  I was inhaling that scent back in September after my rooting interest in college football decided to figuratively sit this season out.

The smell permeating my brain is, and has been, Thanksgiving dinner.  For me, it’s tough to top a holiday where I can catch a course of college basketball to help my ease my indigestion.  I suppose I bring it upon myself though, as eating my way into a state of near-coma has become less of a task brought on by my Grandmother…and more of a conscious decision that I warmly embrace (see also: making a “food baby”).

That being said, there are several correlations between what I can expect to see at my family’s dinner table on Thanksgiving and what I have already seen from my beloved Horizon League basketball squads.  Yeah, it’s early, but let’s eat.

MIXED NUTS:  MILWAUKEE  (3-1)

It’s what you eat while you’re waiting for the feast to be served.  Milwaukee’s wins against Loyola-Marymount, UC Davis, and Upper Iowa were to be expected… beating Iowa State in Ames would have been like finding a cashew.  For now, Milwaukee fans should be thankful for newcomers Tone Boyle and Tony Meier to the starting lineup.  Avery Smith is also back in Panther black after a year in exile, which isn’t hurting anything.  How they perform on Saturday against city rival Marquette should tell us a little more.

HOUSE SALAD: WRIGHT STATE  (0-1)
Most dinner tables feature some type of leafy green salad.  You know what you’re getting with this dish… few surprises here.  Wright State’s home loss to Illinois State has me wondering if some of the romaine has gone bad, but I’ll dig in anyway.  Winning Saturday at Central Michigan is key for the Raiders.

TURKEY AND STUFFING:  CLEVELAND STATE  (1-1)
Unfortunately, this time around, the bird appears overdone and tastes a little dry.  Just about everyone sees Cleveland State as the team to beat in the Horizon League this year, but their early performances have me asking for more Kool-aid.  The Vikings barely got past Oakland at home in their season opener… then lost at Washington by 15.  Yes, the same Washington Huskies that lost at Portland just three days earlier.  J’Nathan Bullock and Cedric Jackson are shooting a combined 26% (15 of 57) from the field thus far.  That needs to change on Saturday when they host Kansas State.

MASHED POTATOES AND GRAVY:  BUTLER  (2-0)
Done right, they can easily steal the show at any Thanksgiving meal.  Butler, at this point, is on the verge of proving that this batch of Bulldogs is more than just a bag of spuds.  Butler opened the season by leading 39 of 40 minutes in a 10-point victory at defending Missouri Valley Conference champion Drake, and handled a much improved Ball State squad by 9 in their home opener.  Of the three freshmen in Butler’s starting lineup, Gordon Hayward has been the most offensive-minded (10ppg), while Ronald Nored is giving opposing guards fits defensively.  Teams are focusing on how to shut down All-Horizon League forward Matt Howard, but he continues to be a force in the middle (13.5ppg, 6.5rpg).  Head coach Brad Stevens definitely has something cooking with his new rotation of players.

CRANBERRY RELISH:  LOYOLA  (1-2)

Despite how pristine they may look, one taste of the cranberries is a swift reminder that they are little more than a bitter fruit.  J.R. Blount had a beautiful point total (42) in the Ramblers’ season opener against Division II Rockhurst, but Loyola lost by 7.  Determined, Loyola strolled into their NIT Season Tip-off matchup with Georgia and promptly dispatched the Bulldogs by 21.  One day later, the Ramblers were run out of Mackey Arena at the hands of Purdue, by 32.  The berries are upsetting my stomach.

ASSORTED PIES:  VALPO  (2-0), UIC  (1-1), GREEN BAY  (0-1)
It’s really hard to go wrong here.  Whether it’s pumpkin or apple, most pies generally live up to expectations.  Valparaiso has done so by winning its first two games against lesser competition (Marian College and Central Florida).  UIC has done so by faltering on the road against one Missouri Valley opponent (Bradley), then turning around and beating another on their home floor (Northern Iowa).  Green Bay, thus far, is more like a lemon meringue pie.  I once had a bad experience with lemon meringue pie, and that’s why I’m concerned for the Phoenix.  Their loss at Utah doesn’t bother me, but the fact that injuries are already taking a toll on this veteran squad isn’t the way head coach Tod Kowalczyk wanted to start a season with what he calls his “most talented” and “deepest team.”

LEFTOVERS:  DETROIT (0-2), YOUNGSTOWN STATE (0-2)
We love them, but we know the food isn’t quite as tasty after a night in the refrigerator.  Anything noteworthy that Detroit and Youngstown State provide this year will likely pale in comparison to what the rest of the teams in the Horizon League provide.

Now for some Horizon League games to look forward to over the next couple weeks:

11.22.08

  • Cleveland State vs. Kansas State
  • UIC vs. Depaul  (HLN – 8pm ET)
  • Milwaukee @ Marquette

11.24.08

  • Wright State vs. Miami (OH)  (HLN – 7pm ET)

11.26.08

  • Butler vs. Northwestern (HLN – 7pm ET)

11.29.08

  • Milwaukee @ Wisconsin
  • Green Bay vs. UMass  (HLN – 8pm ET)

12.03.08

  • UIC @ Vanderbilt

12.04.08

  • Butler @ Cleveland State (ESPNU – 8pm ET)

*HLN refers to the Horizon League Network, the Horizon League’s broadband initiative, which is set to webcast 130 men’s basketball games this season, including out-of-conference “home” contests and ALL in-league matchups.  The Horizon League offers the service for FREE, and signing up takes about 30 seconds.  The site also offers on-demand content, team-specific features, and a weekly update featuring the “goings-on” around the league.  Cool site – check it out.

I’m stuffed…time for a nap.

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