Matt Howard’s value goes beyond the box score

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Matt Howard’s value to this Butler team cannot be quantified by the numbers that he puts up.

Normally when you say that about a player, it’s because they are a role player. Because they are one of the guys that collect floor burns and take charges. It’s rare that the leading scorer and leading rebounder for a team in the Final Four can be undervalued, but that is the case with Matt Howard.

Howard is averaging 16.7 ppg and 7.7 rpg on the season, shooting 42.6 percent from three. While his scoring has been a bit down in the tournament — he’s averaging 15.8 ppg while Shelvin Mack has climbed to 21.3 ppg in the four games — Howard’s contribution to this team hasn’t diminished in the least.

Howard is Butler basketball.

He stands 6-foot-8 and weighs about 230 pounds, but calling him unathletic would be a compliment. He’s not successful because of his outrageous vertical leap or overwhelming quickness or blazing speed. He’s successful because he knows how to play and, more importantly, because he is the hardest working player on the court.

That determination rubs off on his teammates.

“He makes you play hard. I’ve never seen him take a play off – in a game, practice or even an open gym,” Andrew Smith said of Howard.

“You don’t want to let him down,” Shawn Vanzant said.

“Otherwise he looks at you with those eyes,” Ronald Nored said.

All of those quotes were given to Jeff Goodman at the Southeast regional in New Orleans, and all of them are completely accurate.

One of the things said about Howard is that he always seems to find himself in the right place at the right time. It’s true, and its not because he is lucky. Howard gets himself into the right position. Its a manifestation of his desire to never quit on a play, which has won the Bulldogs two games in this tournament.

In the round of 64 against Old Dominion, Howard grabbed a loose ball and scored on a layup as time expired. In the round of 32 against Pitt, it was Howard boxing out Nasir Robinson and drawing a foul that resulted in the game-winning free throw.

It’s more than just the attitude, however. Howard actually is a very talented basketball player. He can score in the post. He’s added deadly three-point range to his arsenal. He’s left the foul issues that plagued him last year behind. And he’s become a solid inside-out combination with Smith.

Howard’s role on this team as a scorer and a post presence makes him an important piece.

But his work ethic and leadership is why the Bulldogs have made their second straight Final Four.

Marquette fan sends Providence money for missed free throw

Providence's Kris Dunn reacts to his shot during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Villanova, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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It goes without saying that sports can inspire some interesting promises, from players and coaches guaranteeing victory to fans making statements that hinge on the outcome of a particular game or play (see: tattoos celebrating a team’s triumphs before they’ve even won the game in question). For one Marquette fan, the need for Providence’s Kris Dunn to miss a free throw during Wednesday night’s game (which Marquette won in overtime) inspired him to make a promise that he intended to keep.

Jamey Schilling took the approach of yelling that he’d pay Dunn $10 if he missed the free throw. Sure enough Dunn missed the shot, and Schilling made good on his promise. But with players themselves unable to receive such funds due to NCAA rules, Schilling sent the check to the Providence athletic department.

Schilling’s gesture did not go unnoticed by Marquette either, as the school sent him a gift card to use in the Marquette Spirit Shop.

H/T For The Win

WEEKEND PREVIEW: Kansas-Oklahoma rematch and who gets the No. 1 seeds?

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. steals the ball from Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, night at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/TNS via Getty Images)
(Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/TNS via Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 6 Kansas at No. 3 Oklahoma, Sat. 2:30 p.m.

The rematch we’ve all been waiting for will happen on Saturday.

A little more than a month after Buddy Hield burst onto the national scene with 46 points in a triple-overtime thriller — thriller doesn’t do it justice, that was one of the best college basketball games of all time — the Jayhawks will may their return trip to Norman to take of the Sooners. Only the circumstances of Saturday’s showdown will be a little bit different than what they were on that Monday night in January, when the No. 1 team in the AP poll squared off with the No. 1 team in the Coaches poll.

Oklahoma is no longer the No. 1 team in the country, as they’ve gone just 3-2 in their last five games while needing last-second game-winners to hang on against LSU and Texas during that stretch. But Kansas is not longer ranked at the top of the polls either, as the Jayhawks have managed just a 2-3 record in the Big 12 away from Phog Allen Fieldhouse, with those two wins coming against TCU and Texas Tech. They needed to beat West Virginia on Tuesday night just to ensure that this game would feature two teams sitting at the top of the Big 12 standings.

And that, at the end of the day, is going to be the most important takeaway from this game. Kansas plays four of their last seven Big 12 games on the road, and three of those road trips are against top 25 teams. Oklahoma? They have four road trips left as well, but they will be paying visits to Texas Tech and TCU during that stretch. That’s what makes the result of this one so important. Oklahoma, with a win, would put themselves in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 title race, and with a (road) game left against West Virginia — the third team tied for first in the league — they would control their own title destiny.

Before I move on, there’s one other interesting point that needs to be made here. When these two teams last played, Hield and Kansas guard Wayne Selden both looked like Big 12 Player of the Year candidates. Since then, Hield has emerged as the clear favorite for National Player of the Year, Selden has fallen off the map. It’s been 10 games since these two last faced off. Selden blew up for 33 in the win over Kentucky, but in the other nine games, he’s averaging just 9.9 points; he’s scored a total of 21 points in three games since beating Kentucky.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 24 Texas at No. 14 Iowa State, Sat. 8:30 p.m.

The Longhorns are suddenly looking like a legitimate Big 12 contender, which was not exactly expected to happen during Shaka Smart’s first season in Austin. The Cyclones, on the other hand, are trending in the opposite direction. They just lost at Texas Tech, they’re starting center (Jameel McKay) has been suspended for two games stemming from the way he’s behaved in practice and, even with McKay in the lineup, Iowa State is working with, essentially, a six-man rotation. So here’s the question: Will this game be the turning point in Iowa State’s season, or will Texas continue their assault on the top of the conference?

OH, AND HOW ABOUT THIS: No. 23 USC at No. 17 Arizona, Sun. 8:00 p.m.

Oregon is probably still the best team in the Pac-12 despite the loss to Cal last night, but USC and Arizona are the two teams that are the most likely to be able to make a run at unseating the Ducks from the top of the conference. As a matter of fact, the Trojans might be the most talented team in the Pac-12, but we’re basing all of this off of an Arizona team that was without Allonzo Trier for four weeks. Now that he is back and working his way into the rotation, this will be a nice gauge to see just how good the Wildcats really are.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Duke seems to have righted the ship when it comes to their season. The Blue Devils have won three straight and four of their last five, including Monday’s win over No. 13 Louisville. They get a visit from a streaking No. 7 Virginia at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, a team that has gone from being atrocious on the road to blowing out Louisville and Pitt in their own buildings.
  2. Indiana is coming off of a huge win over No. 4 Iowa on Thursday night, but there’s no time for rest as the Hoosiers will be at No. 8 Michigan State, tipping off on Sunday 1:00 p.m. Michigan State just lost to Purdue on Tuesday, dropping them to 7-5 in the league, three games off the pace in the conference.
  3. No. 5 Xavier was mollywhopped by Creighton on the road on Tuesday. Butler? They picked up a critical win for their bubble profile at Seton Hall on Wednesday. The two will square off in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
  4. We’re going to find out a lot about the SEC power structure this weekend. At noon on Saturday, No. 22 Kentucky will travel up to Columbia to take on South Carolina, both of whom are sitting in a tie for first in the league standings. Just an hour later, No. 15 Texas A&M — who was the best team in the SEC but now sits a game out of first place — will trip to Baton Rouge to take on LSU. The Tigers? They’re right there with Kentucky and South Carolina, tied for first in the conference.
  5. The bottom-line is this: Gonzaga will not be receiving an at-large bid to the tournament if they do not win at No. 16 SMU on Saturday. Tip is at 10:00 p.m.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Everyone

Ok, maybe not everyone.

But the easiest way to predict upsets — meaning ranked teams losing to unranked teams, not teams favored to win losing — it to look at which ranked teams are playing on the road and to decide which of those unranked teams are actually good. Well, this weekend, ten ranked teams will be firing up the busses (or chartered jets) and paying a visit to an unranked opponent: No. 5 Xavier, No. 7 Virginia, No. 11 Oregon, No. 12 Miami (FL), No. 13 Louisville, No. 15 Texas A&M, No. 18 Purdue, No. 19 Dayton, No. 22 Kentucky and No. 23 USC. Of those ten teams, only Dayton (at Rhode Island) will be visiting a team that is out of the NCAA tournament picture.

And that’s saying nothing of Gonzaga’s visit to No. 16 SMU. Or UCLA’s visit to No. 17 Arizona. Or Pitt playing at No. 9 UNC. Or Indiana heading to No. 8 Michigan State.

In other words, expect to see quite a few teams with numbers next to their name take a loss in the next three days.

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: You mean other than what’s assured to be another class between Kansas and Oklahoma?

Maybe now it’s time to start discussing No. 1 seeds. Because of just how wide open this season has been, it feels like that part of the bracketology discussion has been somewhat overlooked. Usually, at this point in the year, that’s a dominant part of the conversation. Last season, the big story was whether or not Wisconsin and Kentucky were going to end up being slotted in the same region as a No. 1 and a No. 2 seed, and what the Badgers had to do to break into that No. 1 seed line.

This year?

That talk hasn’t really kicked off yet. So let’s change that, shall we?

Villanova, at this point, feels like the only lock for a No. 1 seed for a couple reasons: 1) Their profile is impressive, and 2) there doesn’t really appear to be anyone in the Big East that’s ready to challenge them. I’m not sure that a loss at Xavier will really be enough to drop them down a seed line.

I’d wager a guess that Oklahoma is probably a favorite to get a No. 1 seed right now as well, particularly if they knock off Kansas on Saturday. Currently, Oklahoma has six top 50 wins, an 11-3 record against the top 100 and three losses that all came in true road games, the worst of which is current bubble team Kansas State. If the Jayhawks win, they’ll be a No. 1 seed in Monday’s bracket projections and they may be on that seed line even with a loss. Kansas has eight top 50 wins, a 12-3 record against the top 100 and four losses that all came away from Phog Allen Fieldhouse. The one black eye? That loss to Oklahoma State.

That fourth No. 1 seed? Even with the loss last night, it’s probably Iowa. Their worst loss is at Indiana and they have six top 50 wins, although none of those wins — at least in the eyes of the RPI, that 19 point drubbing of Michigan State at the Breslin Center was damn impressive — are as good as Virginia’s three best wins. But all four of Virginia’s losses are worse than any of Iowa’s

So I’ll rock with Iowa for now. I’d lean Virginia over North Carolina if the Hawkeyes lose this weekend. Both teams have lost four games, all on the road, and while UNC’s losses are “better”, Virginia has much better wins. Eight in the top 50, to be exact, compared to just three for the Tar Heels. It will be nine top 50 wins for the ‘Hoos if they can take care of Duke this weekend.

I’m not sure Maryland has enough quality wins available on their schedule to be able to play their way up to the No. 1 seed line, while Oregon has too many losses at this point to be thought of as more than a No. 2/3 seed.

THE REST OF THE WEEKEND’S NOTABLE GAMES

UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
No. 23 USC at Arizona State, Fri. 8:00 p.m.
Northern Iowa at No. 25 Wichita State, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
No. 18 Purdue at Michigan, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Stanford, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 13 Louisville at Notre Dame, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
Pitt at No. 9 North Carolina, Sun. 1:00 p.m.
No. 12 Miami (FL) at Florida State, Sun. 6:30 p.m.