Saturday, January 30, 2010

Last Night, The Butler Did It and Miscellaneous Notes.

Before I get to the main feature of this article, some miscellaneous notes.

  • Tony Bozzella's Iona Lady Gaels won their school record eighth consecutive MAAC conference game with an 85-60 drubbing of the Broncs at Rider. Anna McLean led Iona with 16 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the field. Iona is now 12-8 overall and 8-1 conference. The Lady Gaels trail Marist (16-4, 9-0 MAAC) by one game. The Marist vs. Canisius women's game, won by the Red Foxes, was on ESPNU last evening. During the contest, the color commentator noted the only team that could beat Marist in the MAAC, due to their size, was Iona. Here's hoping so.

  • After the Marist vs. Canisius women's game, there was the Niagara vs. Canisius game, also on the U. Canisius won the game in overtime 73-70. Niagara has been one of the big disappointments in college basketball this season. Last season, the Purple Eagles were 26-9 and made the NIT. This season, after starting out 8-4, Niagara has lost eight of their last eleven games. The Purple Eagles are now 11-12 and 4-6 in the MAAC despite returning three of their top four scorers from last year's 26 win team - Tyrone Lewis, Bilal Benn and Rob Garrison.

    Rob Kennedy, who does very solid color commentator work for ESPNU, along with the MAAC and NEC networks, might have hit the nail on the head on why Niagara has struggled. Late in the game, the Purple Eagles put up an ill advised shot and Kennedy noted that this is why Niagara is not winning by "putting up 26 footers instead of working the ball inside". And the stats back Kennedy's insightful commentary on the Purple Eagles' bad shot selection. Niagara's field goal percentage is down from last season and the Purple Eagles are averaging nearly five less points per game from last season. In fact the Purple Eagles are dead last in the MAAC in FG percentage with 39.5 percent. That very well might be enough to turn a 26 win team into a sub .500 team.

  • After my article on the Benny Moss "reassigning" at UNCW, I did a little more googling into the Brad Brownell- Mike Capaccio relationship while at UNCW, or more precisely lack thereof at UNCW. A year later, in March of 2007, the always very good Pat Forde wrote a nice article on Brownell after he lead Wright State to the NCAA and that talks about how well loved Brownell is in Wilmington circles. Around the same time, Dan Wetzel also wrote a good article around the same time and Brownell talks about how "some circumstances forced me to leave", which would explain why Brownell left one mid major program for another.

    Both articles though show how good a coach Brownell is. And two seasons later, Brownell's Raiders are 6-4 in the Horizon and 13-8 overall and are "wright" in the thick of things for second place and an automatic bye into the Horizon Semifinals.
Speaking of the Horizon League, the feature game on ESPNU last night was Butler traveling to Wisconsin Green Bay to battle the Phoenix. The Bulldogs came into the game undefeated in the Horizon at 9-0 and 16-4 overall. The Phoenix came into the game in second place in the Horizon at 7-3 and 15-7 overall. Wisconsin Green Bay desperately needed a win to stay in contention for first place in the Horizon. A win by Butler would just about clinch the Horizon regular season title.

A couple of weeks ago when Butler needed overtime to defeat Detroit on the Titans home court, I noted that "Butler seems more vulnerable this season than last season". And that was due to teams keying on Matt Howard. Now mind you, Butler has still been a very good team this season, they are ranked #18 in the country and that's due to the fact they also have other talented players in Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack.

But the fact is the Bulldogs have struggled at times recently, winning very close games such as the Detroit game or the game at Loyola, where they barely escaped with a 48-47 win. In those two games, Howard had 16 points combined, which is barely one point more than Howard averaged all last season. Most of Howard's average numbers have dipped from last season. Apparently so much so that ESPNU's Mark Adams, providing the color commentary for last night's game, noted that he left Howard off his current All Horizon team. Last night's game was proof of how important Howard is to Butler.

In the first half, Howard got into foul trouble with two fouls the first six plus minutes and headed to the bench with four points on two field goal attempts and two free throws. The Bulldogs and the Phoenix would battle back and forth the rest of the half. Butler would take the lead late in the half on a Zach Hahn three and entered halftime with a 33-29 lead. But the Bulldogs were in a fight with the Phoenix as they struggled from beyond the arc shooting 6 of 16 in the first half.

Butler coach Brad Stevens must have told his team at halftime to get the ball to Howard because on their first possession, they got the ball to Howard and he scored. Next possession Howard assisted Hayward on a jumper. Before you blinked, the Bulldogs were on a 13-3 run capped by who else, Matt Howard, with a layup. Not even five minutes into the second half, Butler was up 46-32 and the Bulldogs had sucked the life out of what had been a raucous Resch Center in Green Bay.

The Bulldogs looked a lot crisper on offense in the second half, moving the ball around only the way Butler can do. On defense, the Bulldogs locked down the Phoenix as Green Bay missed six of their first seven shots in the second half. Butler did a really outstanding job on Phoenix guard Troy Cotton. Cotton, Green Bay's third leading scorer on the season with 12 points per game was held scoreless for the entire game. 29 minutes, zero points.

The lead was still twelve, 54-42 with 9:18 left when Howard put his stamp on the game. He first hit a layup to make the score 56-42. After Green Bay's Rahmon Fletcher hit a three to cut the lead to eleven, on the Bulldogs' next possession, the Phoenix collapsed on Howard as Shawn Vanzant brought the ball to the three point line. Realizing how open he was, Vanzant calmly sank a three to put Butler back up by fourteen and Green Bay would never get any closer.

Howard wasn't done yet. Over a period of five minutes, Howard would score eight more points and finish the game eight from ten from the field for 18 points. More importantly, Howard got a national apology from Adams. Adams noting that he had left Howard off his All Horizon team stated on the broadcast "Matt Howard, I was wrong."

Butler would win the game convincingly 75-57, but more importantly proved two points to a national television audience. First, they are one of the top sixteen teams in the country. Second, when Matt Howard is on his game, Butler is a really hard team to beat. Green Bay found out the hard way last night what many people knew already.

As Matt Howard goes, so goes Butler.

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