The big question going into this year’s NCAA tournament is who will be the ‘Butler’ of 2011. In 2010 Butler carved its way through the West Region as the number five seed knocking off #1 Syracuse and #2 Kansas State in route to the Final Four. The fun didn’t stop there; the Bulldogs beat Michigan State to meet Duke in the finals. Unfortunately for Butler, Coach K and the mighty Blue Devils were too tough.
So who is this year’s Butler? Ironically enough, their first round opponent is being pre-dubbed just that. Old Dominion has the talent to give a good run into this weekend and possibly next weekend as well. Analysts are already talking about how the Monarchs match up against Pittsburgh; hinting that #16 UNC-Asheville doesn’t stand a chance Thursday.
But let’s not get a head of ourselves here. The first task at hand is the #8 Bulldogs out of Butler. Given a #9 seed although Old Dominion seemed poised to grab a #7 seed and the highest ranking of a CAA team since David Robinson lead Navy into the dance. That’s in the past. It is a favorable match up for ODU seeing how their conference counterpart George Mason snagged a #8 and a meeting with Villanova in the East Region.
The Monarchs are coming in riding a nine game win streak, a feat that Butler also boasts, on the heels of winning the CAA title over tough rival Virginia Commonwealth. ODU has four starters returning from last year’s team who beat Notre Dame and made it to the second round of the tournament.
One of the big reasons to ODU’s success is their work on the boards. Big man Frank Hassell is averaging over nine rebounds a game and the team overall is seventh in the country at over 40 boards a game. The Monarchs also have five guys with at least four rebounds a game.
Butler sits all the way down at #177 in rebounds at just under 35 a game. The lonely Radford Highlanders even averaged more boards a game. Shout out to Moffat Quad! The Bulldogs middle man Matt Howard managed to pull down just under eight boards a game but look for the man-child Hassell to have his way under the basket.
ODU’s pressing zone defense should frustrate Butler’s shooting game. Not allowing Butler to shoot from outside the arc will be crucial for ODU to keep the game close. Butler has two guys shooting over 40% from three point range, one being the mentioned Howard. This will play an interesting part in the game having Kent Bazemore or Darius James guarding him up top. It will be a total team effort. A team that only allowed 58.3 points a game this season; good for fourth fewest in the nation.
Bazemore, or Baze as the student section knows him as, is an electric player from nowheresville North Carolina and probably has the most realistic NBA prospect status as anyone in the mid-major conferences. If Bazemore is on, Butler is out. Blessed with a plus 40 inch veritcal and a wing span mirroring a teradactyl, the Baze always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Named the CAA Defensive Player of the Year, he is averaging over 12 points a game.
Prediction? Blood. Ok, not really. This will be a tough match up for Old Dominion, but not an impossible one. Old Dominion squeeks by Butler 71-65.