The Butler Bulldogs are at it again. The Southeast Region’s eighth seed needed a wild (but correctly called) finish against top seed Pittsburgh to do it, but the Bulldogs are back in the Sweet 16 and look poised for another run to the Final Four.
However, a major roadblock awaits them in the fourth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers. Their road to New Orleans hasn’t been nearly as stressful as Butler’s, with an easy first-round win over Belmont, and a five-point victory over Kansas State.
The Badgers are led by dynamic point guard Jordan Taylor, who runs head coach Bo Ryan’s swing offense with aplomb. He’s joined by big men Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, as well as promising shooting guard Josh Gasser. Wisconsin is all about creating mismatches offensively, and with rangy big men and Taylor slashing and cutting so well, they do it better than almost anyone out there.
Defensively, the Badgers just shut you down. They were one of the top scoring defenses in the country this season, and while they don’t force a ton of turnovers, they’re efficient and effective.
However, if Taylor and Leuer are cold, there isn’t enough offensive punch to keep Wisconsin in the game, evidenced by their howler of a loss to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament, in which they scored a grand total of 33 points. When the offense works, it works well, but when it doesn’t, things get hairy pretty quick.
Butler is a balanced, tough team led by forward Matt Howard (Connersville – my home town) and shooting guard Shelvin Mack. Howard is capable of stepping out and knocking down a three on occasion, but serves the role of post force quite well, while Mack is one of the most dangerous scorers in the Dance. They can shoot the lights out from three, but have the size to grind out wins if the shots aren’t falling.
Defensively, this team isn’t quite as good as last year, but the Bulldogs can still get the job done in Brad Stevens’ offense. With defensive stopper Ronald Nored capable of slamming the door on a scorer, Butler loves to keep teams from taking high-percentage shots.
However, Butler’s biggest issue is foul trouble. While this is a fairly deep squad, Matt Howard has a nasty habit of picking up stupid fouls early in the game. If he’s on the bench, this team loses quite a bit on both ends of the floor, and he needs to play smart if they want to beat the Badgers.
Look for this to be a low-scoring affair, as the teams’ stingy defenses will limit the open looks at the basket.
Final Score: Butler 61, Wisconsin 58.
The Bulldogs move on thanks to timely three-point shooting from Mack and Shawn Vanzant, as the Badgers hit a devastating cold patch late.