INDIANAPOLIS — Butler forward Matt Howard draws charges the way Meryl Streep draws Oscar nominations, not that we're implying Howard sometimes acts, as in flops, when even the slightest contact comes his way.
Well, maybe we are.
“I know I have a pretty bad reputation for (flopping),” Howard said. “I might have done a bit too much early on. I'm a little bit smaller than some guys out there, so I don't feel like it's always a flop, but there are times when you've got to try to sell something. Almost everybody does it.”
Entering Saturday's Final Four semifinal with Michigan State, Howard is by far the most foul-prone Bulldog. He has 118 fouls in 873 minutes and 34 games, an average of one foul every 7.4 minutes, 3.5 per game. Butler's next most comes from guard Ronald Nored, who has 89 fouls in 1,001 minutes.
All this is reminiscent of another famous fouler-flopper, Dane Fife. He was a defensive stopper for Indiana and is now the head coach at IPFW. Fife recruited Howard hard when Howard was at Connersville High School.
“I still talk to Dane,” Howard said. “He's a funny guy. My family still goes to some IPFW games and they'll talk to him. He doesn't have to do that, but he does. He's a great guy.”
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When it comes to playing H-O-R-S-E, don't mess with Butler coach Brad Stevens, if for no other reason than you don't want to hear his trash talk if he wins.
That's right. The coach with the altar-boy-innocent looks talks smack when he's hitting the J.
“He talks like he can still play,” Howard said, “but he never backs it up.”
Stevens occasionally shows off his shooting prowess in practice, and wins his share of H-O-R-S-E games. While he's no Steve Alford, he does still hold the Zionsville High School career scoring record (1,508 points) and was a solid scorer at DePauw.
As for the trash talking…
“I like joking around with our guys at the right time,” Stevens said. “One of the things you have to be careful with is balancing having fun and being able to focus. These guys do a good job of balancing that.
“I'm having fun coaching them. I might not always like it, but I am. I'm kind of a geek. Most of the time I'm breaking down numbers, watching tape and being at practice. That's it.”
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How many Butler fans will be at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday? Figure nearly everyone who is not a Michigan State fan will be pulling for the Bulldogs because that's the nature of the tournament.
During the regular season Butler averaged less than 7,000 per home game in 10,000-seat Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Athletic director Barry Collier can't give a specific number of Butler fans comprising the projected crowd of 70,000, but he hopes it's huge.
“The good news is, just in time for the Bulldogs to make the Final Four, the Final Four has gone to a 70,000-seat arena,” he said. “The opportunity is there for more people to follow the team. We have incredible demand for tickets and we're trying to help as many people as possible get in the building.”
Stevens hopes the Final Four run will boost season ticket sales for next season.
“I hope we can continue to raise our attendance,” he said. “We haven't sold out very often. That's just being honest. We have unbelievable fan support. Even when it's not sold out, it is a loud, lively environment.
“Hopefully this runs helps to help make it where it is that atmosphere every game. If it does, that's a good thing.”