Early in the season, I saw a trend and repeatedly expressed my opinion about that trend. I saw a wide-open field and a power six basketball landscape devoid of a dominating team. I said over and over again that Butler wasn’t an aberration and that a mid-major might very well not only make the Final Four, but win the national championship.
Now I will be the first to admit that I did not know which team would make that run. In fact, I suspected privately that Old Dominion would be that team. The Monarchs lost to Butler on a last-second Matt Howard putback in the second round. I believe if ODU had been in Connecticut or Kentucky’s bracket, we would have had three teams from a non-power 6 pedigree in the Final Four. But that is another story for another time.
Which teams in the Big East play in some ways similar to Butler? That would be Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and, to lesser degrees, Marquette and West Virginia. Versus those teams, UConn was 2-5. Why?
In those seven games, Kemba Walker shot just 36.9 percent. The X factors in the Big East tourney win over Pitt were Jeremy Lamb's 17 points and Alex Oriakhi's 13 points and seven rebounds (including five on the offensive end).
So can Butler hound Walker into a 37 percent shooting night? With Ronald Nored, Shawn Vanzant and Shelvin Mack, who are all physically capable of keeping Walker in front of them, you would have to say the Bulldogs have at least equal perimeter defensive personnel as Pitt, Notre Dame, Marquette and West Virginia.
Can Butler also hound Lamb into uncomfortable shots and limit Oriakhi's effectiveness on the block and the offensive glass? If there is one thing I know about the Butler basketball staff it’s that not only do they do a great job of studying film, but they are also technology nerds. They will force these two into uncomfortable scoring areas based on facts they have learned through quantitative analysis. They have already determined where Walker, Lamb and Oriakhi all like to score and they will also know the quadrants of the court on which they all struggle on offense. They will then shade these players toward these weak quadrants.
Lamb and Oriakhi are very predictable as to how they score. Butler’s scouting report has been developed and detailed for days. They will force Lamb to be a half-court scorer by targeting him in the full-court situations and then in the half court they will not help off of Walker, which will mean less open space for Lamb to operate.
Oriakhi will be forced to go over his right shoulder if on the block and shoot over an outstretched Andrew Smith or Howard. They will both try to covertly nudge him to the 12- to 14-foot range, where Oriakhi is not as comfortable. Then both will block him off like their lives depend on it on every single shot.
Which team in the Horizon League is the most Like Connecticut? Cleveland State is similar in many ways and Butler handled Norris Cole & Co. with three wins by an average margin of 14.3 points. The phenom Cole shot 39 percent in those three losses. See a pattern here?
Late in the regional final win over Florida, Brad Stevens was seen on the sideline imploring his team to dig deep and play defense while shouting, “Right now. Right now!”
Stevens was right then and he is right now.
A mid-major will win the national championship … right now.