INDIANAPOLIS - One of the supposed advantages for Butler receiving its highest NCAA Tournament seed in program history (four) is that, in theory, it should make advancing to the next round easier.
In theory. But that notion went out the window when the committee assigned the Bulldogs to open against Winthrop.
The Bulldogs (23-8) will face the Eagles (26-6) Thursday in Milwaukee at 1:30 p.m. (TNT, WLYV 1450 AM).
“Winthrop is going to be a great challenge,” Butler senior forward Andrew Chrabascz said minutes after the tournament bracket was unveiled. “Obviously, they’re a championship team. We’re looking forward to it.”
Here are some factors to watch for in the matchup.
If the Bulldog Nation had any hopes of the Eagle players taking the court and being the least bit intimidated with the task of facing a Big East opponent, well, maybe next year Butler can play such an opponent.
The Eagles won 12 of their 15 true road games, including victories at Illinois and Saint Louis.
In addition, Winthrop played at Florida State and at Dayton and were involved in a four-point game in the second half against the Seminoles, while the Eagles trailed Dayton by three in the second half.
Winthrop is going to respect Butler, as it should, but the Eagles aren’t going to be awed in any way by the Bulldogs.
Butler is playing in its 15th NCAA Tournament (including third straight) and 36th tournament game. That experience would be a tremendous advantage if not for the fact that Winthrop has experience too.
The Eagles are playing in the program’s 10th NCAA Tournament, so the hoopla and festivities are just another March affair for these guys.
“It’s an outstanding program,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said of the Eagles.
Of Winthrop’s top eight players, six are in either their fourth or fifth seasons of college and another is in his third.
The Eagles may lose this game (and probably will), but it won’t be due to nerves.
Quality not quantity
Winthrop has a guard (Keon Johnson) that averages nearly 23 points per game, gets to the free throw line with abundance (171 makes) and accuracy (87 percent), which means he drives the ball very well, but he also can bury it from long range (99 made 3-pointers and 41 percent accuracy). So how do you guard him? No one has figured that out yet.
Don’t make a big deal about the fact that he is 5-foot-7; Butler has struggled to contain slight guards at times this season. Even from low major programs.
Northern Colorado guard Jordan Davis (185-pound) killed the Bulldog perimeter defenders for 25 points in 27 minutes on 7 of 11 shooting back in November.
Johnson will be a handful to deal with.
Butler has struggled with its offensive “efficiency,” according to Holtmann, in recent games, and that has to improve immediately.
Too often, the Butler offense has consisted of a pair of players running ball screen action at the top of the key while the other three players stand and stare at their belly-buttons.
The Bulldogs need not only ball movement at the offensive end, but player movement, as well. Screening action away from the ball would be nice to see, though very few teams seem to do that much anymore.
The old adage “be hard to guard” is a requirement for the Butler offense, which has been way too stagnant of late.
The Eagles were THE best defensive team in the Big South Conference and will play solid man defense against the Bulldogs, making it very difficult for them.
Prediction: Hey, Winthrop is a good, experienced, and talented team. This game will be close in the second half. However, Butler has a lot of experience of its own, plus more talent. The Bulldogs will play well and pull away with good play by its veterans (particularly Chrabascz, Tyler Lewis, and Kelan Martin) over the final 12 minutes and win by 11.