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Saturday, March 27, 2010
Can Butler get to the line?

By Eamonn Brennan

If Butler is going to upset (although at this point, would it really be an upset?) the No. 2-seeded Kansas State Wildcats today, it might come down to one simple, oft-overlooked statistic. Free throw rate.

Butler's offense thrives on it. So does Kansas State's. The Bulldogs are the 14th-best team in the country at getting to the stripe. Kansas State is No. 3. But a big difference between the two is that Kansas State's offense has other options. The Wildcats are the fifth-best team in the country at rebounding their own misses, and with Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, Kansas Sate can get good looks in transition without grinding into a half-court slog.

Butler, on the other hand, isn't a particularly good offensive team. That No. 14 mark in free throw rate is the best of Butler's tempo-free offensive stats by a large margin. The Bulldogs thrive on defense. They want to slow the game down, guard shooters tight, and handle their own glass.

The good news is that Butler's one true offensive strength, getting to the line, matches up quite well with Kansas State's one true defensive liability, fouls. Kansas State allows opposing teams to get to the line at a 47.5 percent clip; all that physical defense often turns into possessions that end with opponents at the line.

So this is Butler's chance. It's hard to imagine the Bulldogs keeping up with Kansas State on the offensive end in an up-tempo game. Butler simply doesn't score that way. But if the Bulldogs can do to K-State what they did to Syracuse, take the air out of the ball, and grind the ball into the post, where they can take advantage of that high foul rate, well, Butler's got a chance. More than a chance, actually.