As the NCAA Selection Show unfolded on Sunday night, two of the most successful mid-major programs in the country had yet to be announced with one region remaining. Then the dreaded 8 verse 9 matchup, in the Southeast region, was announced. The Butler Bulldogs will take on the Old Dominion Monarchs.
Both teams enter the NCAA tournament on nine game winning streaks. But both coaches, Butler’s Brad Stevens and ODU’s Blaine Taylor are well aware that those streaks mean nothing now. They know that one of their seasons will be over after the next 40 minutes of basketball. Blaine Taylor said of the matchup, “It will be a great game, a classic tournament game in that both teams play pretty solid basketball and don’t beat themselves.”
Taylor’s point that both teams “play pretty solid basketball” is a very key point. These two teams pride themselves on fundamental basketball, team defense, and giving 100% effort every time they are on the floor. This will be a game where basketball is showcased in its purest form and should be one of the best games played on Thursday.
Led by Matt Howard, 16.7 ppg and 7.8 rpg, and Shelvin Mack, 15.2 ppg, the Bulldogs have a great 1-2 punch. Howard has added an outside shot to his great interior play, while Mack has had a solid season and if you look at his season stats, he is due for a big game.
Butler plays a high pressure man to man defense, where all five players play as one. The communication and help side awareness they show is beautiful to watch.
Much like Butler, ODU has two players that average double digit points. Frank Hassell, one of the most underrated interior players in the country leads the Monarchs with 15.0 ppg and 9.6 rpg. Their other leader is a slashing wing, Kent Bazemore, who averages 12.5 ppg.
ODU tends to rely on a very long 2-3 zone, very similar to that of Syracuse. They are one of the top rebounding teams in the country and do an unbelievable job on the offensive glass creating second chances for themselves.
Keys to the Game
Matt Howard and Ronald Nored must stay out of foul trouble. If Howard gets into foul trouble this game could get ugly. When Hassell gets the ball in the post, Butler most do its best to double down on him immediately and get it of his hands. On offense the Bulldogs need to get their x factor, Zach Hahn going early. If he can find his stroke from the outside, that could cause ODU to potentially come out of its zone. For Butler to have the most success against the zone they must attack the gaps and screen Kent Bazemore when he is playing at the top of the zone. This will open up lanes to penetrate as well as create space for shooters to kick the ball out to.
Offensively they need to feed Hassell the ball early and often. Hassell has to be ready for the double team, as do the ODU shooters Ben Finney and Trian Iliadis. Ball side shooters must slide to the corners and weak-side shooters must slide towards the opposite wing and be ready for the skip pass. Darius James and Bazemore must protect the basketball as Butler will be one of the better defensive teams they have faced all season.
A key stat to watch will be rebounding. ODU is one of the best in the country, but Butler can be sneaky good at getting to loose balls.
I think this game will be very close and will most likely come down to the final possessions. In the end I think Butler’s experience from their tournament run last year will pay dividends.
Butler 59 vs. Old Dominion 56
I will be back with a recap of the game on Friday, and a look ahead to the winner’s game against Pittsburgh(most likely).
About the Author
Written by Patrick Greissing
Life long resident of Washington, DC. A huge Washington Capitals and Miami Dolphins fan. Also have a strong passion for college basketball. Have coached at the high school and national AAU level. Always interested in talking sports. Follow me on twitter: @pgreissing