Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Record and Rankings
Record: 24-9 (15-5)
Offensive focus: Shelvin Mack – 28.9% possessions used
Most efficient: Andrew Smith – 128.5 Efficiency rating
Playmaker: Shelvin Mack – 25.1% Assist %
Marksman: Andrew Smith – 65.3% True Shooting %
Window Cleaner: Matt Howard – 20.5% Defensive Rebound %
Ballhawk: Ronald Nored – 2.8% Steal %
Team Experience: 2.02 years
Average Height: 76.3″
Bench Minutes: 25.5%
After their run to the NCAA Championship game last season even the most casual basketball fan is familiar with Butler and their head coach Brad Stevens. The Bulldogs had a bit of a post-NCAAs hangover earlier in their Horizon League schedule this year after a solid non-conference slate and in early February they were only 6-5 in the Horizon and coming off a loss to an 8-14 Youngstown State team. Stevens and company eventually managed to turn things around however, closing their regular season with nine straight wins and a Horizon League tournament title all while displaying a renewed commitment to teamwork and defense that led them to success in 2010. Needless to say, these Bulldogs represent a slightly greater challenge than Thursday’s.
Butler still features a few key components from last year’s team and forward Matt Howard and guard Shelvin Mack are the two most notable of those as they do the heavy lifting offensively, both taking over 25% of Butler’s shots. Matt Howard has had his best season of his career this year, particularly since Stevens has inserted 6-11 sophomore Andrew Smith into the lineup at center and moved Howard to forward. Howard is an efficient scorer who can hurt you inside, outside or from the line but his somewhat limited athleticism occasionally gets him into foul trouble on the defensive end of the court…if Pitt is going to win on Saturday they are going to need to go at Howard early and often. Shelvin Mack has not had the best of seasons this year, showing both suspect decision making and cold shooting, but he nevertheless maintains the ability to heat up in a hurry and shoot the Panthers right out of the tournament. He is nothing if not your classic mid-major volume shooter. The remainder of Butler’s players are role players who excel at what they are asked to do; Ronald Nored and Shawn Vanzant provide backcourt athleticism and leadership, Zach Hahn and Chase Stigall are the spot up shooters who rarely come inside of the arc and Andrew Smith has been something of a revelation in the paint for the Bulldogs this season giving Butler rebounding superiority and ultra-efficient scoring.
As a team Butler can probably best be described in one word…solid. If the Panthers are going to make good on the fact that they are eight point favorites then they are going to have to bring it with maximum effort because it is a guarantee that Butler will. One factor that will definitely be in play for this matchup is Panther offensive rebounding as Pitt is 2nd in the nation in offensive rebounding, grabbing 43.1% of their missed shots, while Butler is the 18th best team in the nation at preventing offensive rebounds, corralling 72.1% of their opponent’s misses. However, while the Bulldogs are one of the best teams in Division I at boxing out and keeping the opposition off of the glass, they did allow Old Dominion to grab 48.1% of their misses in their Round Two contest, showing that elite offensive rebounding teams such as the Panthers can still make some headway on the boards against them. So if you want to take the temperature of this game in the early going simply watch the rebounding battle for the first five minutes. If Pitt is having their way on the glass early then they will likely win going away but if the Bulldogs can keep the Panthers at bay then this one could be a battle to the wire.
PITT 65 – Butler 57