Butler is back. And while this version of the Bulldogs is not blessed with the defensive ability of its predecessors, it has powerful March magic on its side, perhaps because it's coached by a young, bespectacled wizard (Brad Stevens). How else to explain the offensive rebound that fell perfectly into Matt Howard's hands, setting up his buzzer-beater at the end of the second-round win over Old Dominion? Or the way Shelvin Mack was bailed out after committing what he called "the dumbest foul in Butler history" at the end of the third-round win over Pitt, when Nasir Robinson followed it by committing an even more inexplicable foul? Wild things happen at the end of Bulldogs games in this NCAA tournament, and they tend to happen in the Bulldogs' favor.
There are distinct differences between this Butler team and the one that went to the Final Four in 2010. This club is centered around Howard, who used a team-high 28.5 percent of possessions in the Pitt game and quietly put up All-America-level numbers all season while re-transitioning from role player back to star. And remember how the Bulldogs' trademark during last season's tourney run was holding opponents to under 60 points and less than one point per possession? They limited ODU to 58 and 1.00 PPP on Thursday, but gave up 70 and 1.19 PPP to Pitt -- and still won -- on Saturday. The reason: Their supercharged offense scored 1.20 PPP in that game, which was the third-most efficient performance by any Panthers opponent this season.
The sideline savvy in the Butler-Wisconsin Sweet 16 game will be off the charts; Badgers coach Bo Ryan is a strong Hall of Fame candidate for what he's done at UW-Platteville (four Division III national titles) and Wisconsin (three Big Ten titles, nine NCAA tournaments in nine years), and Stevens will be a lock if he continues on his current trajectory. Lost in the chaos at the end of the Pitt game was the fact that he drew up a perfect open look -- on a Shawn Vanzant drive-and-dish to Andrew Smith -- that would've gone down as the winning bucket had the foul insanity not followed. Stevens later capitalized the victory with a flying back-bump in the locker room that may be
The next-lowest seed is No. 4 Wisconsin, but consider the Badgers underdogs at your own risk. They're the
A certain BYU gunner will be there -- I'm forgetting his name -- but Florida's pint-sized (5-foot-8) point guard has been on a tear in the Gators' first two NCAA tournament games. After scoring 18 points on 4-of-6 three-point shooting (and dishing out six assists against one turnover) in an opening-round win over UC-Santa Barbara, Walker went off against UCLA, hitting an amazing runner over gargantuan Bruins center Josh Smith that's
The Jimmer Show relocates from Denver (where there was an
When BYU (as a No. 7) and Florida (as a No. 10) met last season in the first round, the results were phenomenal, as the two teams waged the tournament's best battle other than Duke-Butler or Kansas State-Xavier -- a 99-92 double-overtime win by the Cougars in which Fredette scored 37. Both teams are significantly better this season, and The Jimmer has grown significantly as a gunner ... suggesting that we could be in for one excellent encore in the Sweet 16.
Florida fans will travel to New Orleans for a BCS bowl ... but will they go there en masse for a Sweet 16? That's TBD. Unless the Gators represent in a big way, there's no major geographic advantage in the Southeast. But the neutral fans, one imagines, will be easily won over by The Jimmer, if they haven't been already through his exploits on TV.
Those are the assist-to-turnover ratios of the four point guards left in this region: Wisconsin's Taylor, Butler's Mack, Florida's Walker and BYU's Fredette, respectively. The disparity here is yet another reason I like the Badgers.
This is Ryan's year to break through to a Final Four, as he finally has a big-game point guard (Taylor) surrounded by a stellar crew of shooters, hustlers and interior battlers. No team values every offensive possession like the Badgers do, and while they don't have a lockdown perimeter defender to bottle up The Jimmer in the Elite Eight, the Cougars don't have the size to deal with the Leuer-Nankivil-Breusewitz-Berggren quartet, either. Preseason polls suggested that it was feasible for the Big Ten to get two teams to Houston ... but expected those two to be Michigan State and Purdue. It turns out that the better picks were Ohio State and Wisconsin.