If college basketball has an Alexander the Great, it’s probably Butler Bulldogs head Coach Brad Stevens. Like the ancient ruler who conquered half the known world before his 20th birthday, Stevens has accomplished a lot at a very young age. He graduated from college in 1999, but he’s already taken a team to within three points of a national title, and three sweet sixteens.
Only five coaches in NCAA men’s basketball history have reached 100 wins faster than Stevens and none has done it in the last three decades. Butler will make its fourth “Sweet 16” appearance in nine years when they meet the No. 4 seed Wisconsin in the Southeast Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The game between the two Midwest (and very, very white) teams is scheduled for a 8:57 p.m. (CT) tip and will be televised on TBS.
By Paul M. Banks
Butler will once again be without their live mascot, the extremely adorable and exceeding cudly Blue II, because the NCAA fascists won’t allow him in again for this round. (Special thanks to Elizabeth Craig for the graphic above)
As you may have noticed, Butler’s last four NCAA Tournament games have been decided by two points or less, and the Bulldogs have played five games decided by two points or less in the last seven NCAA contests. The Bulldogs defeated the Michigan State Spartans, 52-50, in last year’s NCAA Tournament semifinals and then fell to Duke, 61-59, in the national championship game. Butler also picked up a 54-52 victory over Murray State in the second round of last year’s tournament.
Butler’s road here has included dramatic victories over No. 9 Old Dominion, 60-58, and No. 1 Pittsburgh, 71-
70. The Old Dominion win was decided on a shot at the buzzer, while the Pittsburgh victory came on a free throw with 0:00.8 left on the clock. It was one of the most bizarre and controversial endings in recent memory.
“It’s been an interesting dynamic over the last 11 years at Butler. I think we’ve been that program in our league for quite a while, so you have at least the introduction to that target,” Stevens said Wednesday.
“That being said, as much as everybody can tell you about what it’s going to be like coming off of a national championship game, it doesn’t do it justice until you live it. And I think certainly we had to live through some of those things. This is as proud of a team as I’ve ever been a part of for handling not real adversity, basketball adversity. Sometimes I think we misuse that term.”
Whether beat Wisconsin or not probably comes down to what they get out of near seven-footer Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall, who was ranked much higher than your typical Butler recruit coming into school. I fully expect Shelvin Mack, the program’s all time leading NCAA Tournament scorer to keep it going, as his 47% 3-pt percentage through two games matches his pct. from last march madness.
Expect this game to feature a lot of good fundamentals, great defense and very few turnovers. Both teams are good at handling the ball with care.
“I think there are some similarities. I don’t think that — I don’t think that there are a ton. I think that certainly defensively we both try to defend as well as we can there in the half court and try to make people take contested shots. Neither of us turn people over at a high rate, although certainly both are capable of that, and they’re really good at rotating and covering for one another,” Stevens said.
“And then on the other side of the floor, we do have some similar actions, although I think we have a lot more that aren’t than are. The biggest similarity between the two teams, and we are aspiring to be as good as them in this regard, is the way we want to maximize possessions. I think they’re the best in the country at maximizing possessions, and we’re not as good as that.”
He does a weekly radio segment on Chicagoland Sports Radio.com and you can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank