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Behind-the-scenes with Butler

Bulldogs' pregame fears come true against No. 2 Vols

Posted: Monday March 24, 2008 6:18PM; Updated: Tuesday March 25, 2008 7:11PM
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After beating South Alabama, Butler had 44 hours to figure out how to take on Tennessee.
After beating South Alabama, Butler had 44 hours to figure out how to take on Tennessee.
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The Butler Bulldogs granted SI.com permission to observe their preparation for a matchup against the Vols in Birmingham, Ala. Here's how a mid-major attempted to knock off a championship contender.

Friday, 7 p.m.

In a second floor ballroom of the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Butler head coach Brad Stevens and assistants Matthew Graves and Brandon Miller sit at two different tables reviewing film of Tennessee on their laptops. Miller is putting the finishing touches on his Tennessee personnel highlights for the players to look at in about an hour. Miller prepared "the scout" for Tennessee as soon as the pairings were announced on Selection Sunday, while Graves was given first-round opponent South Alabama and assistant Terry Johnson had American. The Vols eliminated American, and thereby Johnson's "scout." Butler defeated South Alabama, 81-61, in their first-round matchup on Friday afternoon. Now they're preparing for a chance to go to the Sweet 16.

The atmosphere is relaxed, yet focused. Stevens had the scout of Tennessee when Butler beat the Vols last year in the preseason NIT when he was an assistant to Todd Lickliter.

"There's a lot of pressure when the head man did the scout the year before, and it was a winner," Miller says. "I think he still knows more about them than I do."

Stevens is breaking down the Kentucky-Tennessee game, periodically asking Miller questions about Tennessee's tendencies in other games.

"Does J.P. Prince drive left 90 percent of the time?" Stevens asks.

"Ninety-nine percent," Miller responds.

"Good enough for me," says Stevens.

When asked if he senses anything different regarding his five seniors' mentality as the end of their career approaches, he says no.

"I know that if there is a loose ball on the floor at the end of a game, they are going to get after it," he says. "They don't want this to end."

The players are due back at 8 for the first part of their preparation for Tennessee. Miller sets up the video equipment, while Stevens will occasionally mumble, "they are really good," to know one in particular.

Friday, 8 p.m.

The Bulldogs file in after a team meal. Dressed in khakis and golf shirts, the players take their 13 seats in front of the video screen. Stevens begins the session by asking players to turn off all cell phones, then addresses the group.

"They thrive on teams that beat themselves and special teams [press, inbounds plays]," Stevens says. "That's good for us, because we're going to be strong with the ball."

Stevens then goes to the back of the room and lets Miller take over. Miller starts with Tennessee's star guard Chris Lofton, explaining his strengths and reading off key stats. There is a chart posted up on the wall, and the players look over to supplement the information Miller is giving them. The staff does not hand out scouting reports to the players, instead relying on them to pay attention in the meetings and return to the staff if they want to see more.

Miller says when Lofton goes right, he's trying to drive. When he goes left, he's trying to get some separation to pull up for his jump shot.

"He'll take tough shots," Miller says.

The clips show a variety of long shots Lofton has made, plus some drives. They aren't all made baskets, but the message is sent: as they all know from watching him on TV this year, Lofton is a dangerous scorer.

Tyler Smith is next, and he is described as the Vol with "the highest basketball IQ." Miller says Lofton makes a lot of the big shots, but when Tennessee needs a big play in crunch time or to change momentum, it is Smith they look for. His signature play is a spin move in the lane, and various clips demonstrate what to look for.

Miller runs down the rest of the Vols, then the meeting breaks up. Curfew at 11 p.m., breakfast at 9:30 the next morning, team meeting at 1:30 p.m.

A.J. Graves hangs around to watch extra film with Miller. He knows he'll have Lofton on Sunday.

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