NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.04.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 4th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

  • Many felt that it would be impossible for a mid-major to ever win a national title; nevertheless, Brad Stevens and Butler are about to turn what once was a myth into a reality. If the Bulldogs are able to cut down the nets tonight, the question emerges whether Butler can still be considered is a mid-major.
  • Athletic Director Barry Collier has made it known that keeping head coach Brad Stevens is a major priority. We think that it is unlikely that Stevens goes anywhere, as his personality does not correlate with that of a mercenary head coach looking to go anywhere to make his next buck.
  • Before Butler was able to advance to two consecutive national championship games, a 2007 three-way phone call between Zach Hahn, Matt Howard, and Shawn Vanzant changed the fortunes of the Bulldog program. The phone call revolved around the future of the program’s leadership when then-head coach Todd Lickliter left the school for Iowa. The three decided to give the unproven Brad Stevens a chance, and it has undoubtedly paid off.
  • Matt Howard has been a great player for Butler throughout his career, but with his various quirks and his general personality, he oozees greatness in an indefinable way.
  • The matchup between Shelvin Mack and Kemba Walker will likely decide the national championship. Walker is a fantastic playmaker and an an unbelievable scorer, but we acknowledge that Mack and the Bulldogs will be a tough out for Kemba and the Huskies.
  • While last season against Duke felt more like a David/Goliath matchup for the Butler Bulldogs, this season they enter their national title tilt with UConn not feeling as if they are underdogs. The huge role experience plays in easing the nerves of lower seeded teams makes the argument rational, even if it doesn’t sound like it at first glance.
  • After losing to Butler, giant killer VCU reflects positively on its season. The word “improbable” hardly scratches the surface when describing the Rams’ run, and a Final Four berth is something the team will always get to cherish.
  • Despite falling to the Bulldogs, VCU’s fans remain proud of what their team accomplished. Shaka Smart could have taken the approach of “playing with house money” after Selection Sunday and nobody would have blamed him, but he and his team quickly altered the perception of the Rams.

Connecticut

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NCAA Championship Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 4th, 2011

Nearly 350 teams start practice on October 15 with a single goal — to play on Monday night.  UConn and Butler are the two teams left standing; it promises to be another epic national championship game for the annals. 

#3 Connecticut vs. #8 Butler – National Championship (at Houston, TX) – 9:21 pm ET on CBS.

It Says Here That Calhoun Will Hold Another One of These Tonight

A year ago, when Butler advanced to the championship game against Duke, they were an unmitigated surprise, the very essence of the Cinderella story that gets talked about every March. One look at the personnel changes since that team (losing Gordon Hayward as an NBA Lottery pick, along with all-glue guy Willie Veasley and big man Avery Jukes to graduation), coupled with the Bulldogs’ struggles early in the season this year (starting 4-4 on the season and 6-5 in Horizon League play), and most people would consider this year’s run to the championship every bit as surprising as last year. But a closer look reveals a Butler team that is now riding a 14-game winning streak, a team that has turned things around on the defensive end. After allowing more than a point per possession in their first 23 games, they’ve trimmed that number to under 0.96 points per possession by locking down opponents and cleaning the defensive glass. Coupled with their capable offense, highlighted by key veterans Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard and newly efficient contributors like Andrew Smith and Shawn Vanzant, while it is still a remarkable accomplishment for the Bulldogs to be in the championship game, it is not nearly the shocker that last year’s run was. Conversely, while the average fan will see the name UConn in the championship game and barely bat an eye, the fact that the Huskies have made it this far is a bombshell. At the start of the season, they were picked by Big East coaches to finish tenth in the conference, and only improved upon those projections by a single slot (9-9 Big East), despite being in and out of the national top ten all season. The Huskies dropped seven of their last 11 conference games and it looked like their overreliance on All-American guard Kemba Walker was taking its toll. But as they have done all season with their backs against the wall, Jim Calhoun’s club has come back swinging, winning five games in five games to take the Big East Tournament title, and backing that up with five more consecutive wins in the Tournament. While Walker has continued to be excellent, it has been the emergence of freshman wing Jeremy Lamb and sophomore center Alex Oriakhi as consistent contributors that have allowed the Huskies to flourish. Lamb has scored in double figures in every game in that winning streak, while Oriakhi has averaged just under ten rebounds per game in that stretch, acting as perfect complements to Walker’s 25.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Freshman point guard Shabazz Napier has also been an important spark off the bench. As with any team that faces UConn, slowing Walker will be priority number one. Junior defensive specialist Ronald Nored should get plenty of up-close-and-personal time with Walker, but Brad Stevens has made it clear that containing Walker is not a one man job. Expect the Bulldogs to try to clog the lane and make it more difficult for UConn to get penetration, while still making sure to keep an eye on Lamb – the Huskies’ best three-point shooter – on the perimeter. UConn will counter offensively with a veritable ton of ball screens for Walker, and off-the-ball screens for Lamb. The Huskies will also try to get guys like Oriakhi, Charles Okwandu and Roscoe Smith involved inside, hoping to take advantage of a relatively foul-prone Butler interior players Howard and Smith. On the offensive end, Butler will look to Mack and Howard for their offense most often, but a hallmark of the Butler Way is balanced offense, with players up and down the roster called upon at various times throughout the game. In the end, expect this game again to be tight throughout. However, the Huskies have shown the ability time and again throughout this tournament to weather a big run by the opposition, change momentum on a spectacular play by Walker, and then couple efficient offensive execution with steely defense down the stretch to eke out a nailbiting win. While it is awfully hard to pick against Butler given what they’ve done, it says here that UConn has one Kemba too many for the Bulldogs. Unless, of course, they find the range and some better luck on their halfcourt bank shots at the buzzer.

The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut 61, Butler 60.

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Final Four Daily Diaries: Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2011

RTC is at the Final Four in Houston, our sixth as a fan but our first as a member of the working media. What that means, exactly, we’re still trying to figure out, but we think it has something to do with wearing a rectangular piece of plastic with our mug on it and nodding approvingly at the people in the NCAA blazers walking around the innards of Reliant Stadium. Or maybe it means dropping dime on one of the coaches at the dais for one thing or another — we’re not sure. Anyway, over the next four days of collegiate basketball activity here in H-town, we’ll be providing a daily diary in much the same way we’ve done with our correspondents throughout this year’s Tournament — equal parts observation and analysis, with a hint of the absurd.

Saturday, April 2 – Houston, Texas

  • For my money, of which I will have very little after this trip to Houston, the moments prior to the start of the first game at Semifinal Saturday are the absolute best of the entire season.  The anticipation, buzz, nervous vibe, whatever you want to call it… is off the charts, as all four schools dare to dream the impossible.  Bands are playing, fans are screaming, media are flittering, and the whole place contains an electricity that is only captured in my opinion at the collegiate level of sports.  There’s something peculiar about schools and fandom that makes this so, and it’s different than what you see with fans in the various professional sports leagues around the country and world.  At any rate, if I could bottle that energy in the air in those fifteen minutes prior to the first tipoff, I’d strap a nipple to that thing and drink it down as a part of my daily regimen.  No question.

VCU Fans Were More Amped Than Anybody Here Tonight

  • That said, my seating arrangement in the pressbox of Reliant Stadium (remember, this is a football stadium by design) left a little to be desired.  The worst part actually wasn’t the view — I could see the players and the ball going through the hoop fine, and so forth — rather, it was the giant windows that kept the noise of the stadium below from reaching all of us within the box.  It muffled everything to the point where I felt I wasn’t actually watching the game live inasmuch as viewing it as a tourist observes the sharks as the local aquarium.  It was more like watching the game on television rather than being there, even though I didn’t have a high definition screen in front of me and the PA announcer was clear as day (piped into the room).

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NCAA Regional Diary From New Orleans

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

Location: New Orleans, LA
Round: Regional Final
Teams: Florida, Butler
Date: 26 March 2011
Correspondent: John Stevens

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

Back to Butler…

There are only two possible options, and either one makes Brad Stevens look like a genius.

Here’s the situation. There are nine and a half minutes left in the Butler/Florida game and the Gators are starting to separate themselves a little. The Butler faithful — many of whom comprise the entire section behind the Bulldogs’ bench and have stood far more than they’ve sat in their seats during the game — haven’t been up for a while, and they’re starting to squirm in those chairs because they can feel it getting out of hand. So naturally, if you’re Brad Stevens, this is the time you saunter down to the end of the bench and put in — who else? — a kid who had scored a grand total of 29 points all season, had only played in 19 of the team’s games, and who averaged less than half an assist. If the sarcasm isn’t coming through, here, what we really mean to say is…are you kidding with this? And yet, what did Crishawn Hopkins do when Stevens tapped him with this most improbable of opportunities? Hit a cutting Matt Howard down the middle for a beautiful assist — immediately contributing more than twice his average in that category — and then hit a huge three, raising his yearly scoring output to 32 points. Sure, he committed a turnover moments later, and he was subbed out, but he changed everything. He provided that lift that comes when a kid who you never expected to come through ends up playing well; when that happens, the crowd gets back into the game and teammates who play the majority of minutes start playing with higher confidence. So, hands up, who predicted Crishawn Hopkins would turn out to be one of the most important players of the NCAA Tournament? When Hopkins sat down after being subbed out, he received a pretty loud ovation from the crowd. In fact, there was only one other player in this region who enjoyed a similar applause when he was removed from his game. It was Jimmer Fredette ending his career.

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RTC Final Four Snapshots: Butler Bulldogs

Posted by zhayes9 on March 28th, 2011

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.

Mack and Vanzant form a capable scoring tandem in the Butler backcourt

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.

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Matt Howard Beats The Buzzer To Start The Madness

Posted by nvr1983 on March 17th, 2011

The NCAA Tournament is already off to a rousing start as Butler, who fell just short of winning a national championship last April, knocked off Old Dominion on  a lay-up at the buzzer by Matt Howard. After Old Dominion tied it up at 58 on a pair of free throws, Butler opted to leave the ball in the hands of Shawn Vanzant who stumbled on his way to the basket then threw the ball up in the air and it was tipped to Howard who was under the basket leading to the first moment of this year’s NCAA Tournament that is guaranteed to be on “One Shining Moment”.

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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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Five Factors That Will Lose You the Title

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

We’ve spent most of the week reading and writing about the various ways that one of Michigan State, Butler, Duke or West Virginia will end up winning the national title and cutting the nets down on Monday night.  Duke is the favorite, but bookmakers give all four teams a reasonable shot to win it.  But often it doesn’t come down to the elevation of greatness in these situations, but instead the avoidance of weakness.  Simply playing your average game is sometimes enough to advance if you avoid a bugaboo that has plagued your team in its losses this year.  For example, if you go cold from three (see: Kentucky), or can’t make a foul shot (see: Texas), or start throwing the ball into the crowd (see: Syracuse), or over-rely on your starters (see: Ohio State) or get key players in foul trouble (see: Baylor)… the entire house of cards can come crashing down.  Let’s take a look at the four remaining teams standing to see what, if anything, could cause problems for them this weekend.

Foul Shooting

Duke (76.1%) and Butler (73.9%) are both excellent foul shooting teams, while West Virginia (70.3%) and Michigan State (68.8%) are best described as mediocre.  None of the four are downright terrible, though.  Michigan State lost games when they shot well , average and poorly from the line, so it doesn’t seem to impact their overall performance much.  Contrast that with WVU who lost three of its six games this season (@ ND, @ UConn, vs. Villanova) when they shot a collective 32-59 (54%) from the line, so they certainly appear vulnerable in that regard.  Both the Devils and Mountaineers average about 22% of their total points from the foul line, so keep an eye on WVU’s foul shooters early (especially the better ones such as Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones) to see if they’re making or missing their attempts.  If they’re not going down, West Virginia is going to have to replace those points from somewhere else.

WVU Needs to Make These This Weekend

Three-Point Shooting

Butler takes 40% of its field goal attempts from behind the arc even though they only convert on 34.5% of them.  In all four of their losses this season, the Bulldogs shot at or worse than that percentage, but it has to be noted that despite hitting only 6-24 threes against Syracuse last week, they still managed to win.  Against Michigan State, you should probably figure that will need to hit at least six bombs to put themselves in a reasonable position to win the game.  MSU doesn’t take (14) or make (5) very many threes per game, so an off-shooting night from deep from the Spartans probably won’t impact their offense all that much.  Duke and WVU are equally reliant on the long ball, but Duke shoots it substantially better (38.2% vs. 33.6%).  Both teams have proven throughout the year that they can win games regardless of whether the threes are dropping or not.  The team that appears most vulnerable is this area is Butler.

Turnovers

Turnovers can kill any team if there are too many of them, but Duke (16.4% TO rate) and West Virginia (18.4%) are solid when it comes to taking care of the ball.  Both force more TOs against their opponents than they give up, but neither rely on turnovers to necessarily fuel their offense — it’s just an added bonus when they get one.  Butler is also ok at 19.1%, but Michigan State is in the danger zone here.  The Spartans turn the ball over 21% of the time, highest among the Final Four teams, and are susceptible to games where every one in four possessions ends in a miscue (nine times this year).  When Sparty goes over their season average of turnovers, they’re not a great team: 7-5 is MSU’s record when they commit turnovers greater than 22% of their possessions.  This is something to keep an eye on in the first half against Butler, as both Syracuse and K-State had trouble figuring out the Bulldog defense, and Butler is far better at causing turnovers than Michigan State is.

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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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RTC Class Schedule 2009-10: Butler Bulldogs

Posted by zhayes9 on October 13th, 2009

seasonpreview

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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