Tim and John S have spent most of this NCAA Tournament putting their picks in separate posts that prevented them from both collaborating and mocking one another. Now that we’ve reached the Elite Eight, it’s time to stick the two of them in the same room and see what emerges. Not surprisingly, the answer isn’t consensus.
TIM: So John, what looks worse now: your prediction that K-State’s game with Xavier “wouldn’t be close” or that Syracuse would play Pitt here since you expected “a lot of intra-Big East showdowns in this Tournament”?
JOHN S: Well, probably my Syracuse-Pitt prediction. I frankly admitted that my hunch about the K-State/Xavier game wasn’t based on anything, but my prediction about the Big East failed time and again in this Tournament. So far every team in that conference has lost earlier than I expected, with the possible exception of West Virginia, who I had in the Final Four–so there’s still time for me to be wrong on that one.
Anyway, we were both wrong on Syracuse, so don’t try and duck that one. Two questions about this game, though, stand out to me: 1) Are the Wildcats riding a high from their 2 OT win two night ago, or are they emotionally and physically spent from a game like that? Is winning a thriller an advantage or not at this point? And 2) If Butler advances to the Final Four in Indianapolis, how much does the quasi-home court advantage help them?
TIM: If I had known Syracuse was going to turn the ball over (and over and over) against a non-pressure defense and go into full-on panic mode in the final two minutes (seriously, Andy Rautins, calm down! It’s a four-point game!), I wouldn’t have picked it to win the title.
Furthermore, I think the demise of the Big East has been overblown a bit, largely because its teams were overseeded. Pitt-Xavier was closer to a 4-5 than a 3-6, Notre Dame-Old Dominion more an 8-9 than 6-11, Washington is more talented than Marquette, etc. At the same time, I did expect Syracuse to rise above that fray; the Orange did not.
To answer your questions, I immediately thought about the fatigue issue on Thursday night. Contrary to what we thought going into the night, Kansas State had to exert a lot more effort to beat Xavier than Butler did to beat Syracuse. There’s a short turnaround from Thursday night to Saturday afternoon, and the high altitude in Salt Lake City doesn’t help matters. It wouldn’t be a surprise if fatigue helped Butler establish the slower pace to this game that it wants. However, right as I’m tempted to say fatigue may cost the Wildcats, I remember that Syracuse beat West Virginia in overtime last year the day after beating UConn in six overtimes.
Butler in Indianapolis will be interesting because it’s such a small school. Even though the campus is six miles from Lucas Oil Stadium, I don’t think the Bulldogs would have the same kind of advantage Purdue or Indiana could have had or that Michigan State had last year. I mean, there’s going to be upwards of what, 60,000-70,000 people there? Butler’s enrollment is like 4,500. It’ll be a nice story for journalists but not a discernible issue.
You talked a little about tempo after the Northern Iowa-Kansas upset; what do you think about the contrast here?
JOHN S: Yeah, as I said about tempo after the Panthers upset, I really think controlling the pace of the game levels the playing field of talent. So if you’re right that the Bulldogs can come out early and slow the game, then I think that gives Butler a clear advantage. Now it doesn’t seem very likely that Kansas State it going to panic and turn the ball over as much as the Orange did, so it may be up to Butler to beat a team that won’t beat itself in this game.
Something else worth noting–and that you got wrong–about the Butler/Syracuse game was how little the Bulldogs actually did exceptionally well. You thought Matt Howard would have to “demand attention on the block” and he had a relatively pedestrian game. Gordon Hayward came up short of your 20-10 expectations, and instead of shooting “lights-out” from the perimeter, Shelvin Mack was 1-10, and the team was 6-24, from beyond the arc.
The point being that Butler played far from its best basketball on Thursday, whereas I think Xavier really pushed Kansas State to the limit (seriously, if there were any doubts about that game being the best of the Tournament, then just look at the game flow: the second half and OTs look like a goddamn DNA double helix). This may have raised Kansas State’s game–god knows Pullen and Clemente announced themselves on Thursday–but it also may mean that Butler has more left in the tank.
Do you see Matt Howard staying out of foul trouble and putting up big numbers, or Hayward getting into a bucket-for-bucket battle with Pullen/Clemente? Or do you see this game being more of a grind-it-out, sloppy affair like the one Butler had against Syracuse?
TIM: Yeah, I think Syracuse did more to lose the game on Thursday than Butler did to win it, and that’s what’s most disappointing for the Orange.
Now, I haven’t been the biggest fan of K-State all season because they rely so heavily on that backcourt of Pullen and Clemente, both of whom have shot selections that leave a bit to be desired. When they’re hitting their shots, though, as they did against BYU and Xavier (where they alternated back and forth between who was carrying the team, along with Curtis Kelly), they’re a team capable of winning the national title.
As for Butler, the Bulldogs may have gotten about as far as I thought they would go this season, but they haven’t exactly played up to my expectations. They lost most of their early-season tests (aside of wins over an Evan Turner-less Ohio State and a better-than-we-thought-at-the-time Xavier). Matt Howard has taken a step back, it seems, in the post, as his constant, Zoubekian foul trouble has meant far fewer touches. Gordon Hayward hasn’t quite made the leap I expected, and I’m not sure if he just isn’t that great or if he’s simply too passive. He’s Butler’s best scorer in theory, but Mack has been that guy in practice (at least in the Tournament).
So, I see Howard in foul trouble again, and I don’t see Hayward going off and trying to match Pullen/Clemente bucket for bucket. Butler’s going to try to be more balanced. The key to the game might just be whether Ronald Nored can do to Clemente (or Pullen; I’d put him on Clemente, but I’m not sure what Brad Stevens will do) what he did to Andy Rautins on Thursday. If Nored can prevent Clemente from getting out in transition, from getting open looks, and from getting into any kind of rhythm (sounds tough, but it’s what he did to Rautins), the game will become slower and more hinged on crisp execution–where K-State’s poor shot selection and tendency to foul a lot hurt it more.
JOHN S: I see this game playing out in two parts: For the first half, I see Butler controlling the pace, forcing some bad shots from Pullen and Clemente, who may be trying to do too much after their heroics. At that point, the Bulldogs will be in control, with a mild lead, maybe as high as 10 points.
But I don’t see that lasting the whole game. I don’t see Clemente and Pullen panicking like Rautins did, and I don’t see the Wildcats making as many stupid mistakes to give Butler the game as the Orange did. Eventually, they will start taking better shots and making them, and I don’t think Butler will know exactly how to respond to a team that is executing on offense. Butler hasn’t lost since December 22nd, but that may actually hurt them here. How do they keep up with a team that is pulling away down the stretch?
I like Kansas State in this one.
TIM: I agree with a lot of what you said–almost all of it, in fact, until you talk about how Butler might respond to a challenge down the stretch. The game you laid out is a lot like the one the Bulldogs played against Syracuse on Thursday. Down 54-50 late, they responded with a 10-0 run to seize control of the game, hitting two huge threes when they hadn’t hit anything all night and getting a nice post move from Howard when he had been a non-factor most of the night.
Two big things I take away from Thursday are these: 1. Butler didn’t play its best and still beat Syracuse, a No. 1 seed. 2. Kansas State played its best and needed double overtime to beat Xavier, a No. 6 seed.
That’s why I like the Bulldogs. It’s easier to impose a slow pace than a fast one, particularly when a team is REALLY adept at imposing its will on a game. Butler will not be rattled at any point by Kansas State’s pressure on the defensive end, and the Bulldogs will hit more shots today than they did on Thursday. My one concern is on the glass, where K-State can have a big advantage, particularly if Matt Howard gets in foul trouble (he will). But I don’t think it’s a big enough advantage to overcome the crisp execution of Butler. Bulldogs in a tight one.