Something has to give when the fifth-seeded Bulldogs take on the second-seeded Wildcats.
That something is one of them accomplishing a significant milestone in their programs’ history. Butler is making their first-ever Elite Eight appearance, while the Wildcats are trying to make the Final Four for the first time in almost 50 years.
But the Bulldogs know a win means a Final Four showing in what should be a home crowd in Indianapolis.
Butler – Sophomore Shelvin Mack leads this group, which also includes Ronald Nored and Willie Veasley. Mack is an emerging talent and should be a household name for college basketball fans by the time he’s done playing for the Bulldogs.
He attacks the glass quite well for a guard, too, with about 14 points per contest.
Kansas State – Former Miami Hurricanes transfer guard, Denis Clemente (Senior) and Jacob Pullen (Junior) account for almost half of the Wildcats' 80 points per game average.
They have more experience than the Bulldogs' backcourt and will be a step quicker and more explosive too. Pullen is the real deal, and he's averaged over 25 points and almost three steals so far in the tourney.
Edge : Kansas State
Butler – It starts and ends with a pair of underclassmen in Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard. Hayward is the Bulldogs best player and has the talent to be considered a potential All-American since he will only improve during his next two seasons.
The problem in this game though is his thin frame (6'8'', 195) handling the physical Wildcats in the paint.
Howard has been sub-par in the tournament about averaging just over four rebounds and about eight points per game. As a team, they only average about two blocks per game and will likely be out rebounded by a significant margin.
Kansas State – Lots of length down low with all five players willing and able to aggressively go after rebounds. They average about 43 boards per game.
Curtis Kelly (6'8'', 250 pounds) could have his way down low and leads the Wildcats defense as their top rebounder and shot-blocker.
The other two starters are fellow high school teammates Dominique Sutton (6'5'', 215) and Jamar Samuels (6'7'', 220).
Sutton is a good defender and emotional spark plug while Samuels is a talented sophomore—despite scoring a total of three points the first two games. However, he seemed to get back on track against Xavier scoring 14 points.
Wally Judge (6'9'', 225), a promising freshman, has taken on a larger role in the tournament and Luis Colon (6'10'', 265) gives them another big body to throw at Hayward.
Just too much depth for the Wildcats and a stronger desire to crash the boards than Butler shows.
Edge: Kansas State
Butler – One noticeable weakness is their bench contributions, or lack thereof. The Bulldogs only see about a dozen points from their reserves.
Brad Stevens is only 33 years old but he sure doesn’t act like it. His accomplishments are impressive, if not shocking. Stevens became the third-youngest Division I coach to reach a 30-win season and tied for the most victories in his first three seasons—of any coach.
One thing Butler won’t be when this game tips off is timid or lethargic. Besides being an extremely bright X’s and O’s tactician, Stevens has these kids ready to run through a brick wall for him.
He’s leading one of the hottest teams in the country as the Bulldogs have rattled off 23 straight victories.
Finally, the Bulldogs are much stronger from the line at about a 75 percent clip.
Kansas State – Coming off a draining, emotional double overtime game might be a hindrance later in the game. The Wildcats have better depth than the Bulldogs—but not by much.
Frank Martin is 11 years older than Stevens but he’s relatively young, at least in terms of experience. He only began coaching in the D-I ranks five years ago and has served as a head coach for just two.
The Wildcats don’t shoot nearly as well from the free-throw line (67 percent), which could be a major factor in the final minutes.
Prediction : Kansas State 68, Butler 61