Butler Bulldogs

No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South region, jumped out to a 20-point second half led. While the No. 4 seed Butler Bulldogs would not go down quietly, the Tar Heels would keep the lead no less than 10 for the remainder of the evening, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 92-80 win on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

It was the bounce-back win the Tar Heels needed — following a near collapse against Arkansas in the second round — to assert themselves as serious contenders once again.

Joel Berry II, who had been hampered by an ankle injury suffered in the first round win against Texas Southern, had a game-high 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting. That’s coming a weekend after 3-of-21 shooting in first and second half wins. Justin Jackson followed with 24 points. Luke Maye had 14 of his 16 points in the first half, an offensive explosion that included a trio of 3-pointers.

“Well, at this stage of the year, if you don’t have good offensive games or good defensive games, you go home,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams told reporters after the game. “But we do need to be clicking a little bit on all cylinders. We’ve got one, two — we only had three guys in double figures today, one of them is 26 and the other 24, so that’s pretty good. But yes, we do need both of them making shots and doing some things for us.”

Williams is right. The Tar Heels do need to be clicking on a little bit on all cylinders. And on Friday night, they did a little more of that than they did in a second-round scare from the Razorbacks.

North Carolina’s offense didn’t have a lapse it did in the second half against Arkansas. When Butler cut the deficit to 10 with more than five minutes remaining, North Carolina countered with a 7-2 run. Part of the offensive efficiency should be attributed to the status of Berry’s ankle, which besides a few moments in the second half, didn’t plague him as much as it did in the previous contest. It also helped that Jackson avoided a 5-for-14 shooting performance and the Tar Heels cut down the turnovers from 17 to 10. They also held a good shooting team — one that needed to knock down shots from the outside if it wanted a chance to extend its season — to under 30 percent from beyond the arc.

The Tar Heels controlled the glass, and dominated the inside, outrebounding the Bulldogs 38-26 and scoring 42 points in the paint. That’s a good sign, as they should be expected to hold the advantage on the inside against either team they face in the Elite Eight.

Regardless of who prevails in the rematch between No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 2 seed Kentucky, the top-seeded Tar Heels are in for an all-out war on Sunday in the Elite Eight. But Friday night was the bounce-back performance that showed the Tar Heels are capable of putting it all together to book another trip to the Final Four.

Butler has no problem with Winthrop

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As a former Cinderella itself, Butler didn’t treat a potential one too kindly Thursday.

The Bulldogs, of course, are underdogs no more.

Fourth-seeded Butler dominated No. 13 Winthrop from nearly start to finish to win 76-64 in a first-round matchup at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

The Bulldogs showed no ill effects from the two-game losing skid they entered the tournament on after dropping games to Seton Hall and Xavier. They struggled some on both ends of the floor in those two games.

That was no issue against the Eagles.

Butler shot 49 percent from the floor and made 8 of 19 from beyond the arc while holding Winthrop to 40 percent shooting overall.

Every shot Avery Woodson put up was from the 3-point line, and he made 6 of 10 to finish with 18 points. Andrew Chrabascz had 12 and Keelan Martin added 10.

Winthrop’s dynamo point guard Keon Johnson scored 17 points, five below his season average, but was clearly bothered by the length and athleticism he rarely saw from Big South opponents. He was 7 of 19 from the field. Xavier Cooks tried to help pick up the offensive slack, scoring 23 points, but he too was inefficient, going 10 of 22 from the field as the Eagles just couldn’t find consistent footing against their Big East foe.

Up next for the Bulldogs is a Round 2 matchup with the winner of Minnesota-Middle Tennessee State on Saturday.

Big East Conference Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Big East Player of the Year: Josh Hart, Villanova

Josh Hart confirmed what was almost unanimously believed in November: he was the best player in the Big East. The senior wing averaged a conference-leading 18.7 points — shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three — to go along with his 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game for first-place Villanova. One of the best two-way players in the nation also had some of his best single-game performances outside of the conference slate.

Big East Coach of the Year: Ed Cooley, Providence

Two days before Christmas, Providence closed out the non-conference slate with a loss at Boston College. The Friars followed by dropping the first two conference games. All three losses were by a dozen or more points. Yet, this team — without Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil — is in possession of another 20-win season, and tied the highest finish Providence has had since the conference’s relaunch. This is a competitive race, especially when you consider what Chris Holtmann and Steve Wojciechowski has done. And that doesn’t include Jay Wright’s continued dominance. But Cooley took a young roster with all the makings of a rebuild and turned it, in all likelihood, a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

First-Team All-Big East

  • Josh Hart, Villanova
  • Andrew Chrabascz, Butler: The statistics don’t jump off the page, but the senior forward impacts the game in so many different ways for a Butler team that was projected to finish sixth, but ended as the No. 2 seed.
  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova: Taking the full-time ball handling duties this season, the sophomore averaged 14.8 points per game, shooting 54 percent from the field. He also registered a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
  • Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: The nation’s leading rebounder (13.1 RPG) has recorded 24 double-doubles this season. He’s also improved his offense, posting 15.7 points per game.
  • Marcus Foster, Creighton: The transfer guard is second in the conference in scoring at 18.5 points per game. He’s taken on a bigger role since Watson’s season-ending injury.

Second Team All-Big East:

  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
  • Kyron Cartwright, Providence
  • Kelan Martin, Butler
  • Justin Patton, Creighton

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Villanova brought the Big East the national championship in 2016, ending critcism of the program’s shortcomings in March and providing the league with an added level of legitiamcy it yearned for since its relaunch in 2013.

So, what will the Big East do for an encore? The conference might send 70 percent of its members to the NCAA Tournament.

Like the previous three seasons, the league was dominated by Villanova, which won its fourth consecutive regular season championship. Butler finished second, and spent much of the year in the top-20. Creighton looked every part of a Final Four contender until Maurice Watson Jr. tore his ACL in mid-January. Xavier, which began the season ranked, has struggled since Edmond Sumner suffered the same season-ending injury. Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall have all made late pushes for at-large bids, resulting in a wild finish to the regular season. Four days in New York should be eventual, to say the least.

The Bracket

When: March 8-11

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City

Final: Saturday, March 11 5:30 p.m.

Favorite: Villanova

This should come as a surprise to no one. This reigning national champions enter the World’s Most Famous Arena as the top seed for the fourth straight season. Villanova has at its disposal the conference’s player of the year, another unanimous first-team selection, a national coach of the year candidate and the athleticism and versatility not many teams can brag about. Depth is a concern, with Phil Booth out for the season and Darryl Reynolds, the only true big man in the rotation, recently returning from injury. It’s also worth noting that two of three Big East losses came against the same opponent.

And if they lose?: Butler

The Bulldogs have twice defeated the Wildcats. They did so in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 4, handing Villanova its first loss of the season. Butler went for the sweep by knocking off the Cats on Feb. 22, the only time they lost at the Pavilion this season. In both contests, Butler made the key plays down the stretch for hard-fought victories. Butler has an improved defense from last season to compliment with its always-efficient offense. With a big like Andrew Chrabascz, the Bulldogs are more equipped to match up with Villanova. Also, Kelan Martin, since his move to a reserve role, has caught fire in the last five games of the regular season.

Kelan Martin (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Providence: The Friars have won six straight, with wins over Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette. Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock may not be Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but they are anchoring a hot team that could give Providence its second postseason championship in four years.
  • Marquette: The Golden Eagles are the only Big East team team other than the Bulldogs to defeat Villanova. They have a nice balance with a deep roster. Five players average double-digits in points, and Andrew Rowsey, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year, and Katin Reinhardt have been huge in the second unit.

Sleeper: Seton Hall

The Pirates played strong basketball down the stretch last season to win the Big East Tournament championship. Isaiah Whitehead is playing in a different borough now, but Seton Hall is rolling, winners of seven of nine. The defense isn’t as strong as it was during last year’s run, but Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are capable of a repeat performance.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Xavier: The Musketeers lost six of seven to close out the season. They have two wins in the past five weeks: both against DePaul. A loss to the Blue Demons on Wednesday night could burst Xavier’s bubble.
  • Marquette: The Golden Eagles should be safe at this point. Sure, they earned a come-from-behind win against Villanova, but that won’t stop critics from poking holes in their resume on Sunday, especially when four wins against Xavier and Creighton came after injuries to Edmond Sumner and Mo Watson.
  • Providence: A six-game winning streak and a third-place finish should mean the Friars are safe, but most bracket projections have them as one of the last at-large four bids.

Defining moment of the season: Marquette, down 17 points, comes back to stun No. 1 Villanova, starting a run for the NCAA Tournament.

CBT Prediction: Villanova

Kamar Baldwin, No. 12 Butler survives No. 15 Xavier at home

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Kamar Baldwin scored a career-high 21 points as No. 12 Butler survived No. 15 Xavier, 83-78, in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.

The Bulldogs were down 31-22 late in the first half, but they took the lead with a 12-0 run to open the second half, pushing the lead to as much as ten points before Xavier rallied.

The game ended in a mild bit of controversy, as Myles Davis appeared to be fouled shooting a three with 3.9 seconds left in the game. Xavier was down 79-76 at the time and Butler was fouling intentionally to keep the Musketeers from attempting a shot that would allow them to tie the game. It looked like the right call on a replay, as Davis was fouled before he shot the ball.

Edmond Sumner led four Musketeers in double-figures with 22 points.

Here are four things we can takeaway from this game:

1. Butler’s tournament profile is awesome: The Bulldogs own wins over four currently-ranked teams already this season. They beat No. 16 Arizona on a neutral court that wasn’t neutral (it was in Las Vegas). They beat No. 3 Villanova, No. 15 Xavier and No. 22 Cincinnati at home. They also have a neutral court win over Indiana and a win at Utah, which wasn’t all that impressive at the time but that will look better and better now that Utah has their full team available.

There are some bad losses – at St. John’s, at Indiana State – and they will certainly help to weigh down Butler’s profile. But if they can manage to protect their home court and sneak a road win against one of Xavier or Villanova, the Bulldogs could very easily end up getting a top three seed on Selection Sunday.

2. Xavier’s isn’t: The Musketeers probably don’t have a win over a tournament team right now, unless you think that Utah or Clemson, who hasn’t done much of anything, either, are tournament teams. That’s not to say that the Musketeers aren’t good – they are, and they will still be in my top 25 on Monday morning – but this is a team that is gong to have to start worrying about where they are going to be seeded on Selection Sunday if they don’t start beating the top teams in the conference.

The good news? Xavier still gets Creighton, Butler and Villanova at home as well as road games against Creighton and Cincinnati. They’ll have enough chances.

3. Kamar Baldwin isn’t just going to be a problem, he is one right now: Is there a quicker player in all of college basketball than Butler’s freshman point guard Kamar Baldwin?

I’m deadly serious when I ask that question, because off the top of my head, I can’t think of one. Baldwin had a career-high 21 points and nine boards on Saturday, making big play and big shot after big play and big shot. He’s the team’s best on-ball defender and a guy that fits seamlessly alongside either Tyler Lewis or Kethan Savage in Butler’s back court. How Butler pulled this dude out of Georgia baffles me, particularly when there are so many SEC program that could desperately use a super-athletic, talented lead guard that can defend and has the, ahem, intestinal fortitude to, as a freshman, take and make clutch shots.

4. Butler’s actual problem is Kelan Martin: Martin has not been good in Big East play this season. He’s averaging just 12.2 points in conference play – he was averaging 18.1 points in non-conference play – and the reason is that he’s apparently forgotten how to shoot. He’s hitting just 32.4 percent from the floor and 23.3 percent (7-for-30) from beyond the arc in six league games.

And Butler is still 4-2 in league play with a win over Villanova.

Not bad.

Team of the Week: Butler Bulldogs

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No. 18 Butler ensured that the Big East will at least be an interesting conference race for a while longer as they were able to end No. 1 Villanova’s undefeated run and hand them their first loss since last year’s Big East tournament. The Bulldogs followed that up by going into Washington, D.C. and landing an overtime win over Georgetown.

That’s a good week overall, but it’s made better by the fact that Butler didn’t exactly play their best basketball in either game. Kelan Martin, Butler’s star forward, shot a combined 7-for-23 in the two games. Andrew Chrabacsz never looked dominant in either game. Those are Chris Holtmann’s two horses, but the great thing about this Butler team is that they aren’t just a two-man show.

In D.C. it was freshman Kamar Baldwin that showed up, scoring a career-high 16 points. Sophomore Nate Fowler, a 6-foot-11 center that plays limited minutes off the bench, saw most of the crunch time minutes, scoring the last five points of regulation – which included burying a three from the top of the key with a minute left – to force overtime. Against Villanova, fifth-year senior Kethan Savage came off the bench to score a season-high 13 points, including seven in a game-deciding, 11-2 run late in the game.

Butler is a threat this season not only because they have a couple stars on the roster, but because they can beat anyone in the country and win conference road games on nights those stars aren’t playing like stars.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Notre Dame: The Irish landed a couple of key wins over the weekend, knocking off both Clemson and Louisville to remain one of just two undefeated teams left in the league, tied with Florida State for first place in the ACC. Notre Dame has been led by Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell all season long, but it was V.J. Beachem who went off for 22 points in the win over Clemson and Steve Vasturia who had 24 points, and the game-winning floater, to knock off Louisville.
  • North Carolina: After a solid win in overtime at Clemson during the week, the Tar Heels returned to Chapel Hill and humiliated N.C. State. The Wolfpack, riding hight off a 28-point win over Virginia Tech, lost by 51 points. UNC was up 26-4 in the blink of an eye, and it snowballed from there. The Tar Heels not only righted the ship after an ugly start to ACC play, but they beat their bitter rivals like they owed them money. Not a bad weekend.
  • Florida State: It’s time to start taking the Seminoles seriously as ACC contenders. Coming off of a win at Virginia where Dwayne Bacon scored 26 second half points, FSU responded by handling No. 21 Virginia Tech at home without much of an issue on a night where Bacon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Jonathan Isaac all had relatively quiet nights.
  • Oregon: The Ducks struggled through the first six weeks of the season as they waited to get Dillon Brooks back to full strength. When he was back, we saw what this group could become, as they ended the undefeated seasons of both UCLA and USC. This past week, however, Brooks was a no-show. He struggled against Washington and was ejected against Washington State six minutes in, but it didn’t matter. Tyler Dorsey scored 28 points on Thursday and Chris Boucher had 29 points on Saturday as the Ducks won a pair of league road games by an average of 23 points.
  • Syracuse: And we all thought the Orange were dead in the water. Syracuse bounced back from a blowout loss at the hands of Boston College with their two best performances of the season, beating Miami by 15 and knocking off Pitt by 11. How? Jim Boeheim has figured out what his best five is and rides that lineup. He’s played just six guys the last two games, and Taurean Thompson has managed just 15 minutes combined.

No. 18 Butler outlasts Georgetown as Hoyas drop to 0-4 in Big East

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Freshman Kamar Baldwin scored a career-high 16 points as the No. 18 Bulldogs followed up their upset win over No. 1 Villanova by going into snowy Washington D.C. and knocking off Georgetown in overtime, 85-76.

Kelan Martin added 11 points for the Bulldogs, who are now 14-2 on the season with one of the best profiles in the sport. They beat Indiana. They beat Cincinnati. They beat Arizona in Las Vegas, a neutral site game with a crowd that was anything-but. They won at Utah. They were the first team to beat Villanova since March 12th, 2016.

And while you may not know any of the names on Butler, that’s may be precisely what makes the Bulldogs so good.

Martin was an NBC Sports Midseason All-American, but you wouldn’t know it if you watched the game on Saturday. He was 3-for-12 from the floor and fired up a couple of terrible shots down the stretch, including an airball at the end of regulation. Andrew Chrabacsz, who is probably Butler’s second-best player, wasn’t all that good either, finishing with nine points and four boards on 4-for-10 shooting.

Off-nights from your two best players is not the best way to win road games in league play, but Butler was able to do just that.

Why?

Baldwin, for one. He may be the quickest player in all of college basketball, and he showed it on Saturday, getting his career-high on an array of nifty drives to the rim while knocking down a trio of threes. That’s a nice third option to have. It’s also nice have a guy like Kethan Savage on the roster, a fifth-year senior that battled an illness at the started of the year but entered Saturday averaging 11.0 points in Big East play; he had 13 points, including seven in a late 11-2 run, when Butler knocked off Villanova, and scored six of his 11 points on Saturday in the extra period.

And then there’s Nate Fowler, a sophomore big man that entered Saturday averaging just 11.6 minutes per game. Against the Hoyas, Fowler not only played the crunch time minutes, but he scored Butler’s last five points in regulation and scored on a putback to give the Bulldogs a 76-70 lead with just over a minute to play in OT.

Put all of that together, and what you get is this Butler team.

They have a star that can carry them, that can win a game on his own, in Martin. Ask Indiana, who watched Martin score 28 points against them despite going scoreless for the first 15 minutes. They have an all-conference caliber secondary option in Chrabacsz. And they have a trio of role players that have proven to have the mettle to win league games for them on the road.

That’s tough.

Jagan Mosely scored a career-high 20 points for the Hoyas, while L.J. Peak added 22 points and Marcus Derrickson chipped in with 14, but it wasn’t enough the Hoyas, who entered the afternoon 8-7 on the season after their first 0-3 start in the Big East since 1999. That was the final year of John Thompson II’s tenure with the Hoyas, which is ironic considering the current angst among Hoya fans with the Thompson regime. Georgetown now does not have a Big East win over a team not named St. John’s or DePaul since Jan. 26th of last season, which was 14 games ago.

This win would have done quite a bit to ease the pressure weighing on this program, because despite being a team that is sitting at .500 on the season, Georgetown is more relevant in the NCAA tournament picture than people may realize. Yes, the Hoyas lost at home to Arkansas State, which isn’t quite as bad as that team’s league affiliation may have you believe. And yes, they lost at Providence and at Marquette to start off Big East play, but road games in conference are never going to be a black mark on anyone’s résumé.

Put another way, Georgetown’s current profile is not good.

But it’s salvageable. That win they have over Oregon? It’s only going to look better and better as the season goes on, and the good thing about being in a league as tough as the Big East is that, in theory, there would be plenty of quality wins available. The Hoyas missed on two of them now, but they still have six games left against Villanova, Butler, Creighton and Xavier. And they still have four games left against St. John’s and DePaul. Three of the four games they play against Providence, Marquette and Seton Hall are at home.

It’s not impossible.

It’s not over yet.

But if they don’t get things turned around soon, it will be the third time in the last four seasons that JT III has missed the NCAA tournament.