Final Four Breakdowns: Butler Bulldogs
Once an imposter, the Butler Bulldogs now run the show.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
There promises to be enough juicy storylines floating around Houston this week to write a book on each of your 2011 Final Four participants. But I have a blog and four days between now and when the madness resumes. Four days, four teams… sounds kind of perfect. First up: Butler Bulldogs.
Final Four History: 2010
Distance from Indianapolis to Houston: 865 miles
Quote of the Tournament: “They’re scrappy, relentless. I don’t know, they’re just tough kids. They never quit. That’s what makes them winners.’’ –Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor after Butler’s 61-54 Sweet 16 victory over Badgers.
|G-Shelvin Mack||G-Ronald Nored|
|G-Shawn Vanzant||G-Zach Hahn|
|G-Chase Stigall||F-Khyle Marshall|
|F-Matt Howard||F-Garret Butcher|
Why They Are Here: Without taking anything away from the accomplishments of Brad Stevens’ team, Butler has needed the most luck, good bounces, fortuitous calls, etc., of any ofthe remaining teams to reach this point. There was Matt Howard’s “look what I found” tip-in at the buzzer against Old Dominion in the first round. Then, of course, Gilbert Brown missed his potentially game-icing free throw after which Nasir Robison committed the foulest brain fart in tournament play since Chris Webber’s timeout. And then Butler pulled away from the suddenly three-point happy Florida Gators in overtime last Saturday. Only in the Wisconsin Sweet 16 contest did Butler have the game in hand throughout, and even then they let the Badgers storm back within a few points in the final minutes. But that is Butler basketball: play mistake-free, take advantage of the opponent’s miscues, make your own luck, and close better than anyone in the final minutes. If that’s what it takes to make back-to-back Final Fours, more programs should try to win ugly.
They Will Win on Saturday Because: Most will say Butler’s Final Four experience could carry the Bulldogs to a national title, but VCU’s intrepid five-game journey up until this point will give Rams comparable NCAA Tournament confidence. Simply put, Butler will win if Shelvin Mack plays like the smartest (not necessarily the best) player on the floor. Mack needs to score for Butler to be successful (Butler needed every one of his 30 points against Pitt and his 27 points against Florida), but his poise could have greater value than his points in Saturday’s match-up. Mack is Butler’s only true threat at penetrating and creating off the bounce (Shawn Vanzant is not the finisher or the distributer that Mack is). You can be sure that against VCU’s 1-2-1-1 defense, Mack will be tested and asked to make great decisions with the ball under pressure. If Butler is sped up, it will be up to Mack to slow the pace back down to Butler’s liking. At the same time, as the Bulldogs’ most dangerous player in the open-court, Mack needs to take advantage of opportunities the VCU defense (which people might forget was horrendous at times during the regular season) allows. It’s up to Brad Stevens to make sure his team doesn’t give the Rams’ full-court press too much respect, but it’s up to Mack to make wise in-game decisions.
They Will Lose on Saturday Because: With the exception of Florida State, VCU has romped through its tournament opponents by dictating tempo and making teams feel uncomfortable. The Rams have a knack, it seems, for making good teams, like USC, Georgetown, Purdue, at times Florida State, and Kansas, forget what makes them successful. Kansas was so entranced by the VCU defensive pressure that they forgot all about their potentially game-changing advantage inside with the Morris twins. Butler, of course, is renowned for its discipline and focus, so if there is one team that wont be rattled by VCU’s destructive style and new-found bravado, it’s the boys from Indy. Still, I’m done doubting what VCU has accomplished in last couple of weeks. Shaka Smart is certainly capable of turning up the pressure on Butler. If the Bulldog ball-handlers (namely Ronald Nored, Mack, and Vanzant) get flustered early like Kansas’ guards did in San Antonio, this game could be a frustrating uphill battle for Butler.
Watch out for: I’m curious to see how long Brad Stevens sticks with starting guard Chase Stigall in the early moments of the game. Stigall normally starts over Nored to provide some offensive firepower out of the gate and comes out quickly thereafter. It’s not as if Stigall plays all that much to begin with, but in a game like this one in which steady ball-handling, defense, and mistake-free basketball (sound like Nored?) are even greater priorities than usual, it might make sense to start Nored. Stigall has been struggling with his shot in the Tournament anyway (2-10 from the field, with only five points). But then again, why mess with success? There is a reason Brad Stevens is the only 34-year-old to make two Final Fours. I’ll shut up now.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.