Butler (22-3, 13-2 Horizon) vs. Davidson (22-4, 15-1 Southern) - Around midseason, this was the Bracketbuster game that many mid major fans anticipated occurring. Two teams that not only made last season's NCAA Tournament, but won games in the tournament, proving mid majors can be very dangerous. Butler won its first round game over South Alabama before losing a heartbreaker to Tennessee in the second round. Of course, everyone knows Davidson made it to the Elite Eight before being a missed Stephen Curry three away from knocking off Kansas.
This season, Davidson was expected to be a major factor and so far they have been. The Wildcats have a couple of signature wins, a neutral site game vs. North Carolina State and a thrilling win at Madison Square Garden over likely NCAA at large team West Virginia. Three of their four losses are to ranked teams (#2 Oklahoma, #15 Purdue, and #8 Duke).
Davidson is led by none other than junior guard Stephen Curry. Curry is the ultimate scorer, averaging 29 points per game. However he has extended his game by becoming somewhat of a point guard, averaging near 6 assists a game. Curry shoots 46 percent from the field and 87 percent from the line. His field goal percentage is down somewhat from last year due largely in fact to a significant drop in three point FG percentage (43.9% last season, 38.8% this season) . Curry does get help from senior forward Andrew Lovedale who averages 12.2 points per game (nearly as many as graduated guard Jason Richards averaged). Curry suffered a sprained ankle and he is questionable for tonight's SoCon game vs. the second place Citadel. So his health is certainly a question for the game against the Bulldogs.
The Wildcats have a RPI of 50, mainly due to a weak Southern Conference schedule but their non-conference RPI is 26, which is quite solid. I think the committee will use that as a determining factor should some how Davidson not win their conference tournament. The Wildcats are first in the SoCon in scoring offense, three point FGs made per game, assists, assists to turnover ratio and turnover margin, all of which is not surprising. What may surprise people is that Davidson leads the SoCon in FG percentage defense.
Butler, on the other hand, is very much of a surprise. The Bulldogs graduated several players from last year's team including star guards Mike Green and AJ Graves, and forward Pete Campbell. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year and the Bulldogs were picked to finish third in the preseason Horizon poll. Someone forgot to tell Coach Brad Stevens and his young team that. Starting two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior, the Bulldogs stormed out to a 19-1 record and a #11 ranking. Butler even has a signature non-conference road win over then #12 Xavier. Their only non-conference loss was a three-point loss at then #21 Ohio State, a team most likely to receive an at large bid.
The Bulldogs, who have a RPI of 21 and a very solid non conference SOS of 24, are led by the balanced attack of Matt Howard, Sheldon Mack and Gordon Heyward, who combine for nearly 40 points and 17 rebounds per game. Howard leads the Horizon in FG percentage at 54.7% while Heyward leads the Horizon in three point FG percentage at 46%. Mack is second in assists to turnover ratio.
Butler again is showing its trademark defense. The Bulldogs are first in the Horizon in FG percentage defense, first in three point FG percentage defense and second in scoring defense. The Bulldogs are first in scoring offense, first in three point FG percentage at 40 percent, and first in three point FGs made at about 9 per game.
Prediction - Oh this is going to be a dandy on ESPN. The irresistible force, Curry, vs. the immovable object, the Bulldog defense. A battle of two terrific coaches, Davidson's Bob McKillop and Butler's Brad Stevens. It will be very interesting to see how Butler will defend Curry. Will they use the 6 foot 3 Mack or the 6 foot 8 Heyward to guard Curry. Mack is quicker than Heyward, but Heyward has the length to disrupt Curry. But more importantly will be how Butler guards the second and third options for Davidson, Lovedale and Wil Archambault. Howard vs. Lovedale should be a very good matchup. Another key will be how Davidson guards against the three vs. Butler, which is the Bulldogs major weapon. Davidson is fourth in three point FG percentage defense in the SoCon.
This is a game between two teams that I think are in pretty good shape if they need at large bids. Both teams have big non-conference wins and the tournament committee would be completely stupid if they didn't use Stephen Curry as a factor if Davidson is in a bubble decision. Of course, in this game, the big factor is how healthy is Curry. If it's a close game at the end, Curry is always a factor. But if that ankle is affecting him that could easily determine this game. I am very torn, but I think Butler has not faced anyone like Curry this season. Combine that with it being a home game for Davidson and the Wildcats win barely 70-68.
Next - Bracket Buster Part III - The rest of the afternoon games