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Team Profile: 2007 BracketBuster Preview: Southern Illinois at Butler

by Matthew Stevens | February 11th, 2007

We’re already salivating, Pavlov-style, over this game of canine superiority (a Saluki is a kind of racing dog for the uninitiated), and the game doesn’t take place for another six days. In a Saturday laden with a ridiculous number of terrific matchups (Florida @ Vandy, UCLA @ Arizona, UNC @ BC, Washington @ Pittsburgh, Memphis @ Gonzaga, Oregon @ Stanford, Georgetown @ Villanova) the best game of the day may very well be this one.

Barring a shocking meltdown by Butler to end the season, both of these teams will be playing in the NCAA Tournament. So unlike every other BracketBuster matchup, it’s not an at-large bid, but a protected seed that these two teams are playing for. An all-time high #3 seed (for both programs) is there for the taking.

Butler’s Todd Lickliter and SIU’s Chris Lowery are the clear favorites for their respective conferences’ coach of the year award, and Lickliter has a chance to win it nationally.

SIU (21-5, 12-3) will likely end up with a Top 10 RPI ranking by the end of the year and a regular-season title in the #4 or #5 RPI conference. But without a late-season win against Butler, that still might not be good enough for a top-four seed.

On the other side of the floor, Butler (22-3 Div I, 11-2) would not host its conference tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse – Wright State is the new Horizon front runner by virtue of a 77-65 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday. Butler also doesn’t really need to worry about its next opponent (Div II Florida Gulf Coast), so Lickliter and his staff have a week to prepare for the Salukis. SIU may be catching Butler at the wrong time.

Key Matchup: Butler’s A.J. Graves vs. SIU’s Jamaal Tatum
SIU brings in a pair of 6-7 frontcourt players in Randal Falker and Matt Shaw that Butler may not be able to contain. Falker is an absolute beast inside, and Shaw can extend defenses with his Pittsnoglesque ability to shoot the three. But Butler’s mish-mash of interior defenders did hold D.J. White and Josh Heytvelt to sub-par games earlier this year, Falker and Shaw may not put up big numbers.

SIU runs a very patient motion offense, rarely shooting with more than 10 seconds left on the shot clock, and invariably getting a good look as the clock winds down. So if the Bulldogs are going to win, it’s got to be A.J. Graves maximizing Butler’s limited number of offensive possessions. Jamaal Tatum might be the best perimeter defender in the Valley, and will no doubt be called upon to shut down one of the nation’s best perimeter shooters.

Prediction: Butler 64, Southern Illinois 62
Southern Illinois does struggle to score at times, and if Falker cannot establish himself inside, the outside shots may not fall on the road. Butler will be looking to erase the Wright State loss (which, incidentally, does not go in the “bad” column, as the Raiders currently sport a #85 RPI ranking). There’s probably more pressure on Butler to win this game, given the extended gap between its last marquee win (Purdue on 12/16) and the NCAA Tournament. But the atmosphere in Hinkle Fieldhouse will be magical. Watch for A.J. Graves to channel Jimmy Chitwood and rise above Tatum to hit a baseline jumper as time expires to give Butler the important W.

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