General Info: The Butler Bulldogs are a mid-major squad that has been on the national radar since November following their NIT Tip-Off Championship. The Bulldogs opened the season like a house afire, defeating Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee, and Gonzaga on their way to the title. Add in a win over Purdue and it’s a pretty strong non-conference schedule for the Bulldogs. Unfortunately, Butler dropped five league games during the regular season of the Horizon League, and followed that up with a second loss to conference rival Wright St in the league tournament.
Team Makeup: The Bulldogs are led by senior guard A.J. Graves who averages 17 points per game. The Bulldogs are not a particularly tall team, nor or they as athletic as many of the teams they have played. However, Graves is the best example of this squad: smart, experienced, and team-oriented. He has deep range and creates easy opportunities for his teammates. Junior guard Mike Green brings the Bulldogs some athleticism, averaging 14 points per game and running the point position. The transfer from Towson also leads the team in rebounding, quite a feat for a 6-1 player. Forward Brandon Crone brings versatility, averaging nearly 12 points and 5 rebounds per contest. Nine Bulldogs average double-digit minutes, allowing their depth to wear down opponents.
Style of Play: Butler is a methodical, careful team. The Bulldogs turn the ball over only 9 times per game, making the most of a low possession game on most occasions. Solid defense forces 13 turnovers per game, using sneaky quickness and remaining a step ahead of the opposition to create havoc. Butler is not afraid to work the shot clock low and hoist up a three pointer with time running out. This has proven effective this season, as the Bulldogs attempt 24.3 three-point shots per game. It is very important for Butler to maintain control of the tempo and keep pressure on the perimeter defensively. Tempo is important because an up-and-down game allows other squads to use their athleticism against the Bulldogs. Ball pressure allows Butler to cover up its lack of size at all positions.
Weakness: Size. Butler has very little of it. Somehow, the Bulldogs only get outrebounded by two boards per contest. However, other teams have found that posting up Butler at any position is advantageous. Athleticism is also a problem for Butler, as evidenced by the perimeter quickness of Wright St. Horizon League Player of the Year DaShaun Wood consistently found openings in the defense during the tournament final, using his quickness to pick apart the Bulldogs. Notice early in the season, Butler was successful against Indiana and Notre Dame, neither of which is super athletic on the perimeter. However, Loyola Chicago and Wright St both used perimeter quickness to cause problems.
Key Victories: Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Purdue
Key Losses: Southern Illinois, Wright St (2), Indiana St, Illinois-Chicago, Loyola Chicago
Outlook: A potential second-round matchup with a Maryland makes an extended run more challenging. However, Butler is a tough, gritty team with solid senior leadership. The chance to make a run will surely motivate this squad to play its best, no matter who the opponent. One more note on Butler: the Bulldogs shoot 76.3% from the foul line, sixth in the nation. Obviously a close game, especially one in which Butler has the lead, favors the Bulldogs. Clearly, the Bulldogs have a chance to become this year’s favorite Cinderella, busting brackets everywhere. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you if it comes true.