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The Butler defies conventional wisdom once again

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They did it again, and it’s absolutely mind-boggling. Despite shooting 9-33 from beyond the arc, and playing one big man against three, the Butler Bulldogs pulled off yet another upset special in the NCAA Tournament, this time stunning the Florida Gators 74-71 in overtime.

You hate the overused reference to Clue, but I simply cannot have enough fun with how surprisingly successful the basketball team of this small private co-educational liberal arts school has been in the last calendar year.

The Bulldogs are the first non-BCS conference affiliated school since UNLV in 1990 and 1991 to reach two consecutive Final Fours, but the dichotomy between the programs couldn’t be more stark. Those Runnin’ Rebels were mean and vicious; boasting speed, quickness and future pros that made them look everything like a powerhouse team from any one of the Big Six conferences.

Butler is not that. Instead, it is the embodiment of a overachieving group of athletes dedicated to one single goal, led by one of the brightest and boldest coaches in all of sports. They defy everything that is elite, everything that is supposed to happen, everything that the numbers tell you is probably going to happen.

Four minutes into this afternoon’s game, it was pretty clear that the Bulldogs were outmatched. Vernon Macklin, nothing more than a serviceable big man for Billy Donovan, displayed an array of post moves against the inferior Butler frontcourt that was slightly similar to Hakeem Olajuwon.  The Gators’ game plan appeared quite simple: bang it down low, rinse, repeat and then win. All for naught, Macklin finished with a career high 25-points.

But because they know how to leave us miffed better than any college basketball team in recent memory, Butler stuck around despite desperate shooting and limited offensive options. Unable to get into the Gators zone’ – they shot a lot of threes, and missed a good chunk of them. An astounding 55 percent of Butler’s attempted field goals were from beyond the arc, but the Bulldogs never really faltered – baiting the Gators into silly decisions of their own by pressuring the perimeter and making the anything-can-happen backcourt duo of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker into having to make decisions.  That’s where the game changed, as the Gators only got two points in the paint from their big man in the final 10 minutes of regulation.

From there, magic ensued. You don’t need all the details.

Brad Stevens said it best following last Saturday’s victory against Pittsburgh, and his frankness is much appreciated. Butler is not any better than any of the teams they have played en route to Houston – and that includes Florida. But they are smarter, savvier, close like your top regional salesman, and seem to have tinge more luck than their opponents.

Those sorts of intangibles apparently can take you very far in March.

Nick Fasulo is the manager for Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelin.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.