Billy Donovan needs to be at his best right now. His name is being thrown around pretty much everywhere with the departure of Tubby Smith at Kentucky, and he will need to ensure that this group of players face no distractions from their main goal: Beating Butler tomorrow night in St. Louis to advance to the Elite Eight.
I'm not going to say that this is going to be a perfectly focused team and coaching staff, but I do have a lot of confidence in them. While they have looked sluggish in the first halves of both games played so far in this tournament, they have come out ready to go when it was needed and won both games using the fundamentals that got them here. That focus and execution are a must -- epsecially in the Sweet Sixteen against such good competition, and especially when one loss sends you home.
The Gators opponent Tomorrow night, Buter, is carrying the torch for the mid-majors everywhere who were not fortunate enough to make it this far (especially with SIU going down tonight). They are coming into this game as underdogs to the defending National Champions and with that should be looking to prove that they belong amongst the best programs in the country this season. This type of team is one that you can never count out.
Now here is a quick look at the 2007 Butler Bulldogs:
The 2006-2007 Season
Butler rolled through their season, finishing 29-6 and 13-3 in the Horizon Conference. Their non-conference schedule included some very tough games against the likes of Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee, Gonzaga and Purdue. The most impressive thing about this run of OOC games? Yeah, they won every single one of them against these notable teams. This is a team that has set themselves up for success by taking on top-notch competition, including on the road and on neutral floors.
But for those big wins they had some bad losses. They dropped games to Indiana State, Illinois-Chicago, Wright State (twice) and Loyola. They also suffered a tough loss to a Sweet Sixteen opponent, the Southern Illinois Salukis. One of their losses to Wright State came in the Horizon tournament, knocking the Bulldogs out of the postseason and out of an automatic bid -- if you remember this really hurt a ton of bubble teams who were expecting Butler to win that tourney.
The Bulldogs won their first 10 games, and also put together a nine game winning streak midway through the season. They had one bad stretch -- they lost three of five games nearing the end of their season (sound familiar?).
They beat fellow mid-major Old Dominion in round one, and then followed that up with a victory over Maryland in round number two.
Players to Watch
You've probably heard the name of AJ Graves several times since Sunday, and that's understandable. The 6-1 Junior guard averages 17.1 points per game and really is responsible for the tempo that the Bulldogs play at game in and game out. He will be the key player to watch for the Gators defense Tomorrow simply because of his impact on the Bulldog's performance.
Graves brings in very low turnover numbers -- he only averages 1.6 per game, so perhaps trying to force some miscues will be in order. If you try to hard, though, you'll send him to the free throw line, a place where he shoots close to 96%.
But Graves isn't the only 6-1 Junior guard that could cause the Gators a problem Tomorrow night. Mike Green averages close to 14 points per game, including pulling down six boards a game -- a stat that leads the Bulldogs for the season. Needless to say that the backcourt could be a tough matchup Tomorrow for Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey.
Stats Match Up
Points Per Game
UF: 80.1 / Opp: 61.9
BU: 67.9 / Opp: 56.9
UF: .529 / Opp: .404
BU: .436 / Opp: .404
3 pt FG Percentage
UF: .402 / Opp: .287
BU: .369 / Opp: .331
UF: 123.4 (3rd)
BU: 117.7 (16th)
UF: 87.1 (13th)
BU: 92.7 (46th)
What an odd team to look at stats-wise. If you look at what Butler gives up per game to their opponents, 56.9, you would think that they were perhaps the best defensive squad in the country. However their defensive efficiency only ranks 46th. While coming in with a top-50 efficiency is nothing but impressive, I expected it to be higher.
Butler doesn't rebound well. They don't block shots. They only shoot 44% from the field. How, exactly did this team make it so far?
Here's a quick summary of what Butler does to win games. They slow the game down to a snail's pace -- out of 336 division one basketball teams, Butler ranks 331st in pace at only 58.9 possessions per game. That my friends is slow basketball. To put into perspective UF averages 66.5 possessions per game -- all things considered that is a big difference, and UF is simply average in the pace category.
Now with that slow pace Butler plays really efficient offense. They come in with the 16th most efficient offense, fueled by a very low number of turnovers (only 9.5 per game!) and hits nine three-pointers per game.
I've heard all week that Butler is a lot like Purdue in their style of play. However I think this matchup favors the Gators a little more because of the size and physicality of Butler. The Bulldogs' tallest players are 6-7 and will not be able to assert the same type of force in the paint. This could create better rebounding and post-scoring opportunities for Joakim Noah and Al Horford underneath.
They get you out of your game with the slow tempo, lock down on perimeter defense and force you to turn the ball over. On the other end they don't turn the ball over and have good shooting range. Really it seems as if Butler just hopes to score enough to get past their opponents low point totals. They only give up 57 points per game, but score even less than Purdue, who I thought had a low point average.
OK, I think I've confused myself. Hopefully our players aren't equally perplexed by the stats Butler throws out there. I'm very excited to watch this game because I like seeing varying styles in basketball from different teams around the country. What makes it better is that I am confident that the Orange and Blue can match up with any of the said teams above.