Friday, March 26, 2010

Butler is Not a Cinderella Folks and Thoughts on Tonight

As for tonight, St Mary's- Baylor looks to be a high scoring game. I think St Mary's has a good chance here because Baylor is not known as a defensive team. But the Bears have talent and they shoot the ball well, as do the Gaels. Should be a fun game to watch. Also, I like Northern Iowa's chances vs. Michigan State. Both teams play a similar slogging style of game, but Northern Iowas is fully healthy and Michigan State is missing Kalin Lucas. As for the other games. As for the other games, I like Ohio State and unfortunately Duke. A healthy Robbie Hummel would have meant a much different outcome, but then again Purdue wouldn't be a four seed if he was playing.

At the end of January, Jeff Eisenberg who runs the Yahoo Sports National College Basketball Sports Blog, the Dagger, sent me an email and graciously asked me to be a part of their inaugural Blogger Power 16 Poll. Considering it a honor, I gladly accepted. Little did I know how much work this would be. I started watching...Whelliston turn away...a lot more Power 6 conference games than I normally did (and I do already - I watched a lot of Kansas' games this season). So it gave me a better perspective on some major college teams I didn't follow as much (ended up watching a lot of the Big Ten Network).

And each week, it actually took a good part of my Sunday reviewing what I considered the Top 16 teams in the country. And of course there would be upsets on Sunday afternoons and I would have to scramble what was my original order of teams. In fact, the last week of the Blogger Power Poll, I had to have my wife email my rankings to Jeff because I couldn't find a good WiFi connection in Richmond.

But one thing was surely consistent week after week after week. I had Butler as one of my Sweet 16 poll every week. Why? Because I thought they were truly one of the sixteen best teams in the country. However for several weeks, my fellow bloggers in the Poll for would not vote for the Bulldogs and thus they were listed under "Others receiving votes".

Perhaps they didn't view the Horizon League very highly. But having seen them win over Ohio State and Xavier (how do those wins look now), and lose close games to Clemson and Minnesota early in the season, I thought they were certainly Top 16 caliber and they were in the midst of what would become eventually a 23 game winning streak.

The game that might have brought the rest of the bloggers over to the Butler is Top 16 worthy side was their crushing Bracketbuster win over Siena, who still had the basic nucleus of a group that had won a NCAA Tournament game in each of the past two years. Finally on March 1st, the next to last Blogger Poll, Butler got enough votes from the rest of the bloggers to make the Top 16 Then came their two dominant wins in the Horizon League Tournament.

Then Butler had to prove themselves again in the NCAA Tournament. Many prognosticators picked UTEP to upset Butler. Not this one. A 22-4 second half run took care of the Miners. Then many thought Murray State would knock off the Bulldogs and the Racers almost did win the game. But Butler prevailed.

Then came last night's game vs. Syracuse. I thought Butler would use its outside shooting prowess to its advantage. Though they struggled shooting from the outside, the Bulldogs also set high screens to pick off the top of the zone and let Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward drive the lane. On defense, the Bulldogs hounded the Orange into numerous turnovers. The result, a 35-25 halftime lead.

The Cuse made their second half obligatory run and eventually took the lead 40-39 with 13:29 left on a Wes Johnson three pointer. But Butler would go back in front again. But again the Orange came back and went ahead 52-50 with 5:45 left on an Andy Rautins three pointer. The Orange had their lead up to four, 54-50 with 5:23 left. Neither team could score for the next two minutes but still the Cuse had momentum on their side.

But Bulldogs never quit and certainly not this group. A Ronald Nored three pointer with 3:13 left kicked off the decisive 11-0 run. And when Gordon Hayward hit one of two free throws with 37 seconds left to put Butler up 61-50, Butler was now one win away from going home to Indianapolis for the Final Four.

All that stands in their way is Kansas State, a very talented and tough team that survived two overtimes against Xavier, a team Butler barely beat at Hinkle Fieldhouse. It looks to be another tough game but Bulldogs never quit. And here's the scary thing, outside of Veasley, the whole team is back next season. Maybe my fellow Dagger Bloggers Power Poll members will have them in the Top 16 to start the season. But this season isn't over yet. Just one win from home.

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