Basketball

NCAA Hoops Preview: Butler

Isaiah Taylor. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Isaiah Taylor. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Date: Thursday, March 19
Time: 1:30 Central
Television: CBS
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Consol Energy Center)
UT-Butler NCAA game thread

Opponent Strengths:

After sweating out whether or not they were even going to get a bid to the tournament, the Texas Longhorns find themselves in the odd situation of being the lower seed (11 to Butler’s 6) but the favorite (as high as 2.5 points depending on where you look). Much was expected out of this Texas program at the beginning of the season; we all know how that ended up during the regular season and conference tournament. Butler, on the other hand, wasn’t even picked to be in the top half of their conference; yet here they are after a 22-10 season where they tied for second place in the league at 12-6.

A tale of two vastly different seasons? Sort of. But there’s certainly a lot of intrigue to the matchups in this one.

Defensive rebounding percentage. In what should be a terrific matchup of strengths, BYU is one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country. The Bulldogs have held opponents to a very low 22.7% offensive rebounding percentage (good for #10 in the country, Texas ranked #31). This functions as a way that Butler looks to shorten the game. Not only do they play a controlled pace offensively (167th in possessions per game) but they also limit second chance opportunities with their defensive rebounding. This will be key for a Texas team who relies on putbacks and second chances to kick start their scoring. If Texas can be in the 35%+ offensive rebounding range, they’ll have a very good chance of winning this game. If they’re closer to BU’s norm of 22%, it will be a real question of how Texas can score.

The Bulldogs look to be led by 6’6” junior wing Kellen Dunham (16.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists per game). Butler consistently goes eight deep and boasts three double digit scorers, one that averages over nine and two more who are close to eight. But there’s no doubt that Dunham is their most efficient, and important, offensive weapon. As a shooter/scorer, Dunham is close to a total package as he shoots a terrific percentage from three (41.5% on a voluminous 173 three point shots), shoots well from inside the arc and is equally adept/comfortable getting into the paint and attacking the rim where he can finish well and is near automatic from the line after getting fouled (86% on an average of five free throw attempts per game). Texas will need to slow down Dunham and force the rest of the Bulldogs to convert as scorers if they hope to win.

Opponent Weakness:

Prine Ibeh and Myles Turner share a blocked shot. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Prine Ibeh and Myles Turner share a blocked shot. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Field goal percentage defense. For a team that prides itself on their rebounding and winning close games, Butler is, simply, an average defensive team. They have little in the way of effective height (only Woods stands as tall as 6’9” of Butler’s rotational players). They aren’t particularly athletic. They are susceptible to aggressive point guard play. The Bulldogs have lived this season on out-executing their opponents, but they’ve also benefitted from a relatively easy schedule (only 14 games against top 100 opponents, versus Texas’ 21). If Texas can get a positive game from their playmaking guards (read: Taylor, Isaiah), the Horns will have the chance to have an effective offensive game against Butler.

Individual playmaking. While Coach Holtmann isn’t a Brad Stevens disciple, his team plays with a comparable makeup. They move the ball unselfishly. They cut and attack the basket away from the ball. They have some talented shooters. But they lack a true point guard/scoring guard who can create offense for himself. For Texas, this becomes big because many of their defensive woes (and, in turn, their losses) have stemmed from dribble penetration leading to help rotation kickouts or, simply, clutch shot making from players who can create for themselves off the bounce. Butler doesn’t really have that guy, which bodes well for the Longhorns.

Texas Keys: Offense

Isaiah. Texas fans know that whenever Taylor sees a team that struggles with interior defense, he licks his chops. Well, this is one of those games. Butler wants to play straight up, defensively, force opponents to finish against man defense and avoid fouling. Except, if Taylor can turn the corner, there’s little the Bulldogs will be able to do against Isaiah’s ability to attack the rim. As always, Taylor needs to be both effective and efficient for Texas to feel comfortable.

Interior scoring. While Barnes isn’t exactly a basketball analytics guy, Texas has done a nice job since March began at taking high quality shots. They are taking open threes and forcing action into the paint as their main offensive sets. This has been effective because it plays to the strengths of the team as it allows Ridley to catch the ball closer to the rim, it allows Turner more freedom to roam and move to open spots, it allows Lammert to facilitate from the arc/high post and it puts Holmes into a position to attack as a shooter or straight line driver. Those four guys (plus Taylor, obviously) need to find a comfort zone between their perimeter shots and their effectiveness in the paint against both Butler and Notre Dame should they make it that far.

Texas Keys: Defense

3-point percentage defense. Similarly to Texas, Butler is all over the place with their three point shooting. Sometimes they shoot a ton (29 being the outlier). Sometimes they shoot hardly any (twice only 6). But the comparison remains when considering how their shooting contributes to their success. In their 10 losses this season, Butler has shot a combined 30.6% from deep. Their wins? A much more respectable 39%. Texas should be fine with Butler being a high volume three point shooting team, but the Longhorns must defend the arc well as the possession numbers will be low and the Longhorns can’t afford to get caught away from shooters.

Control the paint without fouling. Texas has been the best shot blocking team in the country basically all season long. It’s their defensive identity. However, when teams get into the NCAA tournament all bets are off and there’s little that can hurt a team as much as foul trouble. Texas has generally been excellent at contesting shots without fouling this season, but avoiding the creation of free points for Butler (a 69% shooting free throw team on the season) will be crucial.

Myles Turner. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Myles Turner. (Will Gallagher/IT)

The Endgame

So, now, we play a game of known and unknown.

Known: Texas is as gifted as just about any team in the country.
Unknown: Which version of this Texas team will show up.
Known: Texas will have the best player on the floor in Taylor.
Unknown: How Taylor will adjust to Butler’s defense in his ability to get to the rim.
Known: Texas has played its best basketball of the season over the last month.
Unknown: How Texas will recover from their heartbreaking loss to ISU in Kansas City.
Unknown: How Barnes’ rotational and in-game decisions will affect his team.

More unknowns than knowns…

Still, I think Texas wins this matchup as the more gifted, more complete team.

Prediction: Texas 67 – Butler 59

Projected Starting Lineup

Taylor
Yancy
Holmes
Lammert
Ridley

MORE GAME NOTES
TELEVISION: The game will be televised nationally by CBS. Brian Anderson (pxp), Steve Smith (analyst) and Lewis Johnson (reporter) will call the action.

• RADIO: The Longhorn Sports Network and KVET (FM 98.1/1300AM Sportsradio the Zone) broadcast every UT game on the statewide network. Craig Way (pxp) and Eddie Oran (analyst) will call the action. Check www.TexasSports.com for a listing of affiliates carrying the game. In addition, Westwood One Radio will carry the game nationally with Scott Graham (pxp) and Kevin Grevey (analyst) on the call.

• SERIES: First meeting

Texas in the Big Dance
• This marks the 16th appearance in the last 17 seasons and 32nd all-time appearance by the Longhorns in the NCAA Tournament.
• Texas sports a 35-34 (.507) record in its previous 31 trips to the Big Dance.
• This also marks the 24th time in the past 27 seasons the Horns have earned a bid to the NCAA tourney.

Notables

WINNING THE FIRST ONE: Since the NCAA expanded its tourney field to 64 teams in 1985, the Longhorns are 17-6 in their opening game in the NCAA Tournament. Texas is 6-2 in its last eight NCAA opening-round contests.

BLOCK PARTY: Texas ranks FIRST nationally in blocks per game (7.9 bpg) entering the NCAA Tournament. The Horns have set a school season record with 260 blocks and have reached double figures in blocks a total of eight times this year.

HOLMES RETURNING TO FORM: The lone scholarship senior on this year’s team, Jonathan Holmes averaged 12.0 ppg and a team-best 8.5 rpg in 26.5 minutes per contest during UT’s two games at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship. He posted 15 points (5-10 FG), nine boards and three blocks in the quarterfinal loss to No. 13/15 Iowa State.