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When Butler beat Pitt in what some observers seemed to think was a pretty good game (oops, apparently those observers were mistaken) it helped Wisconsin immeasurably on paper while simultaneously worrying their fans. In log5 world, the Bulldogs are an easier opponent than the Panthers would be, 'nuff said. In Madison, however, memories die hard. Bo Ryan's team has been sent home by Cornell, Xavier, Davidson, and UNLV the past four years -- feisty mid-majors all. Meanwhile BYU rates out as a slight favorite in their game against Florida, even though Jimmer will be rocking the lower-seed road look for the first time in the tournament.
Log5 odds by Ken Pomeroy
Seed Elite8 Final4 Final Champ Prev
4 Wisconsin 79.0 47.4 25.0 9.5 2.5
3 BYU 56.4 27.7 12.7 4.0 2.7
2 Florida 43.6 18.8 7.6 2.0 1.4
8 Butler 21.0 6.0 1.5 0.2 0.04
Odds for the entire Sweet 16 are here.
Putting last year's tournament together with the current madness we find that Butler's 3-1 against higher seeds, a record that includes two wins against No. 1 seeds. If the Bulldogs were to continue their wacky seed-toppling ways against heavily favored Wisconsin, log5 would regard the winner of BYU-Florida as the most likely team to get to Houston. Or maybe that team would become merely the latest victim of Butler's wacky seed-toppling ways.
(3) BYU vs. (2) Florida (Thursday, 7:27 on TBS)
If I'm BYU head coach Dave Rose I'm spending extended time this week with the tape of Florida's 70-54 loss to Kentucky in the SEC tournament title game. That game is to the Gators' postseason roughly what a power failure is to a utility. In every other outing since the tip-off of the SEC tournament Billy Donovan's team has happily trampled the opposing defense to the tune of 1.15 points per trip or better. But on Selection Sunday at the Georgia Dome, UK pulled the plug and held Florida to 54 points in 59 possessions.
Erving Walker carries the burden of not even being the most-publicized player with his own last name in the Sweet 16 but he's quietly become pretty important, like that other guy is to Connecticut. Against Kentucky Walker did hit a couple threes (he was 2-of-6), but for the game he netted just eight points, in part because he recorded zero free throw attempts. BYU will look to duplicate that defensive performance.
Of course the Gators have their own worries under the category of guarding that important guy on the other team. Rose and James Taft Fredette of Glens Falls, NY, are attempting wonderful and unprecedented things in the field of single-player reliance. And it's working! Ask Gonzaga, which achieved the not inconsiderable feat of looking every bit as shell-shocked against the Cougars as Purdue looked against VCU.
What you have there are Jimmer's minutes in the postseason. Aside from watching the bench players mop up against the Zags for a couple possessions, he's been on the floor the entire time. So when I say Jimmer's taken 44 percent of BYU's postseason shots during his minutes I can dang near drop the "during his minutes" part.
What was interesting about the Gonzaga eruption in particular is that on the whole the Cougars actually aren't shooting all that well the past couple weeks, particularly from outside. That's cold comfort for Mark Few, but it does give Donovan some reassurance that he might be facing normalcy and not that terrifying shredder that the Zags stumbled in front of last weekend.
(8) Butler vs. (4) Wisconsin (Thursday, 9:57 on TBS)
After that whole 36-33 thing against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament the Badgers have quietly resumed their usual shtick, being one of the best offenses in the country. Bo Ryan's team scored 142 points in 116 possessions against Belmont and Kansas State in Tucson. (And that was with Wisconsin giving the ball away on an incredibly-high-for-them 15 percent of their possessions. They're practically Baylor!) It wasn't as flashy as what BYU did to Gonzaga, but it was steady and, most of all, characteristic.
So I expect the Badgers and Butler to score a lot of points against each other in a slow-paced game, about as many points per possession as we saw on Sunday from Washington and North Carolina but without the old-school carping on Twitter that Bah! No one plays defense anymore! Actually neither Wisconsin nor the Bulldogs play defense anywhere near as well as they used to, but both tend to receive an evaluative free pass on this front, whether because of their body of work on D in recent seasons (Badgers) or because they so reliably supply incredibly close and entertaining tournament games (those other guys).
About those other guys. You can say goodbye to the diffident and unassuming regular-season Matt Howard, the one with a shot percentage down in the mid-20s. It's late March and this is the big guy's senior year. Since the tip of the Horizon tournament Howard and Shelvin Mack have each accounted for 31 percent of Butler's shots during their minutes. Pitt will be forgiven for thinking otherwise but of the two Bulldog stars it's been Howard in particular who rates out as a monster of postseason effectiveness. The pride of Connersville, Indiana, has drained 35 percent of his threes and (take a deep breath) 71 percent of his twos over the last four games. In a contest that figures to raise the bar for "number of fundamentally sound big guys who can crash the boards or step out and hit the three," be sure to make room for Howard in your attention span.
Butler received a huge if little-noticed boost in the Pitt game when Howard was whistled for just one foul in 38 minutes. If number 54 can once again evade detection by the zebras you can expect a close game. If not, well, it will still be a close game. The Bulldogs have now played seven consecutive NCAA tournament games that have come down to the final minute. If you're busy Thursday night just skip ahead to when there's about 60 seconds left. The score will be tied.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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