Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/17/2007 08:54:00 PM
Playing at a Bulldogged Pace
Pete Campbell (34), Julian Betko and the Bulldogs are in the Sweet 16 for the second time in four years.
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Win the pace war against Maryland, Butler figured, and it would win the game. All season long, the Bulldogs have witnessed the implosions of impatient opponents; the Horizon League's powerhouse takes the air out of the ball, waits for a defensive lapse, and then shoots daggers with the shot clock running down. It's a formula that always works: Heading into Saturday, when fifth-seeded Butler had monopolized time of possession and held its foes to under 60 points, it was 20-0.
The fourth-seeded Terrapins only managed 59, as the Bulldogs' sub-60 resume hit 21-0 and they sealed their second trip to the Sweet 16 of this decade. If one were to dwell only on athletic aesthetics -- comparing the Average Joe frontline of Brandon Crone and Brian Ligon against the highlight-reel duo of James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe; or the spindly, Chitwood-esque A.J. Graves against the prep phenom Mike Jones -- Butler's victory might seem like a fluke. But the truth is, it has this methodical style down to a science; early-season victims Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee, Gonzaga and Purdue can provide references for its effectiveness. In kenpom.com's pace rankings, the Terps were the 10th fastest team and the Bulldogs were the 330th, and on Saturday the Turtle was ground to a halt by the NCAA tournament's most dangerous tortoise.
"We work on being patient and keeping our poise -- especially against teams like Maryland that like to get up and down," said forward Julian Betko. "Our plan was not to get in their tempo, and play our tempo instead. I'm not saying they can't guard, but they don't want to guard. They just want to steal it, or get a rebound and go. So what we did was work the shot clock and get the best looks we could possibly get."
Butler's veteran lineup of three seniors (Betko, Crone and Ligon) and two juniors (Graves and Mike Green) had the poise to make big plays down the stretch. Graves' three with 2:11 left was clutch, and Green's offensive rebound with seven seconds to go and the Bulldogs up 61-59 clinched the game. The moments that truly displayed the power of coach Todd Lickliter's system, however, were stashed earlier in the second half.
With 12:55 left, and the Bulldogs up one, 42-41, Ligon rebounded a missed Graves jumper. Programmed not to force a quick shot, they instead went through a 25-second sequence that ended with two quintessential "Butler Passes:" Betko turned down a semi-open 3 from the top of key to hit Ligon on the left block; then Ligon passed up a contested layup but drew the attention of defender Gist, and wrapped the ball around to Drew Streicher for what was indeed the best possible look -- a one-foot bank shot.
The second masterpiece possession came at the 6:53 mark, when Butler, which plays in Hinkle Fieldhouse, the state tournament site in Hoosiers, went into full Norman Dale Mode. The ball touched no fewer than six sets of hands -- from Green, to Crone, to Betko, to Graves, back to Crone, and finally, back to Betko -- before he drilled a three-pointer from the left wing to put the Bulldogs up 51-46. Crone, the assist man there, would later knock down two jumpers in the final five seconds of the shot clock that demoralized the comeback-minded Terps. "It's a tough task to guard 30 seconds side to side," said Green. "We drill that in practice ... and we're pretty good with the shot clock under 10."
Despite its crunch-time savvy, Butler is the rare mid-major who entered the dance feeling slightly unloved. The NIT Season Tip-Off champs sat in the AP poll's Top 10 in February, but were banished from the rankings altogether after three late conference losses. "It's a small league, so [the nation] did kind of forget about us," said Crone. "But we don't care, to be honest."
The Bulldogs just keep on rolling in the dance, and keep on being called "smart" and "quaint" and "old-school" as they pick apart more modern opponents. Even Philly product Green, the player on Butler's roster who looks the most like he belongs in the ACC, is comfortable with the fact that any conversation about his team tends to gravitate toward words like "Basketball IQ" rather than, say, "high-wire act." "We're challenged a little bit physically, but as far as thinking," he said, "we might be one of the best teams in America."
Smart enough -- and patient enough -- to win a potential matchup with Florida next week? For an underdog that rose from being picked sixth in the Horizon League preseason poll, to finishing the regular season as a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, that will be the ultimate battle of wits.
Congrats to Butler. They played well and got a few bounces too. The problem I have is the refs prepensity to want a cinderella story and give the breaks to the mid-majors. That charging call against D.J. was the worst call I have seen all year. That ref should lose his job.
I was thinking of the Terps as a dark horse to get to the final four. I thought that they had the athletic talent to overcome a bad game or two, and the coaching to win evenly matched contests. I also thought that they still had some legs coming into the Big Dance, and I always like a team with a defensive stopper like Stawberry.
Luke, you were right, the squeaker over Davidson was a sign of weakness. I looked at it as superior athletic talent carrying the day over an underrated and inspired team. By the way, if you look at tradition, Maryland had none until Lefty D departed from Davidson and became a Terp. No one should be suprised that a Charlotte area college has a good basketball team (Winthrop? UNCC on occasion?)
Gary 'The Other' Williams doesn't get outcoached often, but it doesn't take but once to get sent home.
Stop whining about officials. Just because your jersey says "Maryland" doesn't entitle you to get all the calls. There was a huge free throw disparity, and the charge call on Crone in the last minute was a bad call, too. Maybe if you hit your free throws next time you won't lose.
I am tired of hearing Maryland fans (which include the likes of Dick Vitale for fear of loving the ACC too much) whine about the "charge" in the last minute of the game.
I agree, it was a close call, but let's think about it - How can anyone blame the official for that ONE call when they had 17 turnovers and shot 50% from the charity stripe?
And to the post that said the ref should lose his job, you have never had to endure watching Horizon League officials call a game - by far some of the worst out there. I thought the game was called pretty evenly (and please don't forget about the charge that Crone got called for toward the end of the game where the Maryland defender was under the basket - it goes both ways).
How dare all of the Maryland/Acc haters out there complain about the gripes of Maryland fans anbout the "charge". This team fought hard this season to get into this position. They fought very hard to have a chance to win that game (not a big fan of not fouling at the end by the way but that's another story). They do everything right and get Strawberry in the right position to score, and the player slides under him. That's it. Season over. H*&^ yeah were going to gripe!! You would too. Do not decide a fantastic game by calling that Sir..
The worst call you have ever seen? How about Greg Oden's intentional SHOVE at the end of the OSU Xaiver game? Also, Maryland could have got that rebound (which is what they were SUPPOSED to do) and scored again for the tie or the win. One call doesnt dictate games come on now. And as a 5-seed, i dont think Butler is really a "Cinderella"
You cannot set your feet while someone is in the air. So his feet were set, yes, but he set them under the player which is a block.
As per the number of free throws, could it be that maybe Maryland plays on the inside and is physical and Butler plays mostly from the perimeter. Possibly?
Even if they get that rebound there is like 3 seconds left which is why I wanted to foul. One of the few bad moves that Williams has made. Butler did a fantastic job with time management there.
Bad calls at ends of games can decide outcomes, come on. A different situation than in the middle of games. There is no time to fight throught the bad call and make up ground. How can you compare a last minute bad call to any other bad call in a game. Is a missed free throw to win a game at the last second different from the first missed free throw of the game!! Why?
I think Butler matches up well with Florida. Butler's frontline (Ligon, Crone & Betko) gives up 12 inches to Florida (Brewer, Noah & Horford), but only 3 pounds. The beefier Bulldogs should hold their own on the inside. Then it'll be up to the guards. It's hard to bet against Green & Graves. This game won't be decided until the last minute.