UConn is the favourite, but Butler isn’t a lost cause. Here’s why the Bulldogs might make history and shock everyone, including this writer:
1. STAGE PRESENCE
Most of these guys have been here before and know exactly what to expect thanks to last year’s miracle run.
Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack have proven they can come through when it counts time and time again.
Even Zach Han showed on Saturday against Virginia Commonwealth that he isn’t afraid to take and make big shots.
Hahn scored eight straight Butler points in the second half. He hadn’t scored eight or more in a game since Feb. 10.
Howard has had a knack for putting the ball in when his team needs it most.
2. BIG MACK ATTACK
Shelvin Mack has been a stone-cold killer in this tournament and in last year’s campaign.
Mack is bull-strong and an excellent shooter. Though undersized, he finds a way. UConn’s guards aren’t any bigger, so the odds are Mack has another huge game. Only Kemba Walker is capable of scoring more points.
“He’s a guy that’s capable of making big plays, but he’s also a guy that’s capable of making plays for others,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said.
“I always feel like the next one’s going in when he shoots it.”
3. THE BUTLER WAY/BRAD STEVENS
Nobody ever has done what Butler has. They will have the crowd on their side on Monday. They are Rocky, they are the team from Hoosiers and they got here by doing it their way.
“We haven’t ever changed what we do,” forward Matt Howard said.
“You stay within your vision and your system, you get guys that buy into it, you can be successful.
“I’ve been here four years, and nothing’s really changed. We’ve done things the same way. I think that’s really important, whether you don’t make it to the tournament, you lose in the first round, or you’re fortunate enough to make it to this game. It’s all about staying solid and staying within what you do.”
Something Butler does better than anybody.
UConn has had a brutal stretch. Walker looked gassed on Saturday. In a win or go home championship game most likely everyone will have their legs, but the Huskies are in pretty unprecedented territory.
“I’ve never been through anything like this,” Calhoun said.
“I mean, you go and beat San Diego State in San Diego, virtually, Anaheim, then Arizona shows up with its fans, two road games, both were very tough basketball games. Yeah, if you don’t adapt, we wouldn’t have made it this far. We’ve had to adapt, but keep it like a regular game. That’s been a tough blend.
“It takes a toll.”
Yes UConn is a different kind of beast on the boards, but Butler has been tremendous on the glass.
Howard seems to find a way to grab them at big moments even when he’s not the tallest or widest guy on the court.
“We’ve had some pretty big games from our guards, some really big games from guys off our bench that come in and really give us a lift, going to the offensive glass, getting us rebounds on the defensive end as well,” Howard said.
“It’s a team mindset, something we’ve really been focused on in this tournament.”
If Butler can stay close to even against the bigger Huskies on the boards, they will give themselves a shot to keep the game close.
“They play great team defence. They stunt, help, recover. They do all the things they need to do. They’re physical enough to do it,” Calhoun said.
“They’re capable of slowing Kemba down, without question.”