Setting: Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City is the location for the West Regional final battle between Brad Stevens and his No. 5 seed Butler Bulldogs (31-4) and Frank Martin’s No. 2 seed Kansas State Wildcats (30-4).
Plot: Horizon League faces off with the Big 12 for a spot in the Final Four.
Sub-plot: Butler plays in the first regional final in school history. K-State’s 12th trip to the Elite Eight is the first one in more than two decades.
Butler has not lost a game since December. A streak that covers 23 games.
Flashback: Tonight’s game marks the first meeting between the two schools. K-State downed two Horizon League opponents this season—Cleveland State (85-56) and Loyola Chicago (92-54). K-State punched their 24th dance ticket this year.
Butler is making its 10th NCAA Tournament appearance.
Foreshadowing: Twenty-one Wildcats have earned paychecks in the NBA. Current stars include Michael Beasley, Cartier Martin, and Bill Walker. Butler still awaits its first NBA guy.
Conflict: Thursday night, Butler held a Syracuse team that averaged over 81 a game to 59. For that trend to continue, the Bulldogs will need to keep K-State off the glass. The Wildcats grabbed 15 offensive rebounds in their thriller over Xavier.
Butler will also need to control Kansas State’s quick back court tandem of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen.
K-State’s 1,084 trips to the free throw line ranks number one in the nation. It’s no coincidence that Pullen and Clemente lead the way with 447 and 485 respectively. Nobody on the rest of the roster comes within 200 free throw attempts. The strategy is nothing new. The Wildcats want to stretch the floor and drive into open spaces.
Jamar Samuels and Curtis Kelly do the damage inside for the Wildcats. The two contribute 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Gordon Hayward leads four Bulldogs in double digits. The silky smooth swing man provides versatility to the lineup. At 6′9″, Hayward can go inside and get work done. He averages almost nine boards a game and can finish in the paint. Hayward has also hit 42 trifectas on the season. Stevens has called on Hayward to run the offense from time to time.
Matt Howard adds 12 points and five rebounds. He is text-book type of player in the paint whose work could be a how-to video used at summer camp.
Shelvin Mack leads the Bulldogs with 65 three pointers. Mack hits 40 percent from long range.
The only senior in the lineup, Willie Veasley, chips in 10 points and four rebounds.
Ronald Nored runs the point at just a touch under 2 : 1 assist to turnovers.
Zach Hahn needs to have a big night if the Bulldogs want to stick with the Orange. Hahn hits 42.3 percent from long range.
Resolution: Butler surprised a complacent Syracuse team. Kansas State will not overlook the Bulldogs. Many might expect the Wildcats to show some signs of fatigue after their double overtime win against Xavier. Martin will not allow that. Butler’s success will not easily convert to success against Kansas State.
The Orange zone draws in opponents and creates turnovers through traps. Kansas State will defend Butler 40 feet from the basket. Can the Bulldogs respond? Stevens will chalk tonigh’t game up as a learning experience. Butler returns four starters next year and this trip to the Elite Eight could propel them further next year.
Kansas State wins a game decided by single digits.