Is it a safe bet to say that the only people that picked a fully correct Final Four will now be those residing in Indianapolis?
The fifth-seeded Butler Bulldogs used a combination of three-point shooting and shut-down defense to upset the second-seeded Kansas State Wildcats 63-56 and advance to the first Final Four in school history. The school with an enrollment of just 4,500 students will only have to travel four miles down the road to Lucas Oil Stadium next weekend to face the winner of the Michigan St.-Tennessee matchup taking place on Sunday.
Butler head coach Brad Stevens' squad came prepared to play Saturday afternoon in Salt Lake City, just as they did Thursday night when they knocked off the No. 1 seed in the West Region, the Syracuse Orange. In fact, the two games were eerily similar.
In both games, Butler used tough on-ball defense to hound their opponents and force turnovers. While the Orange committed 18 on Thursday, K-State "only" turned it over 13 times.
Sophomore guard Ronald Nored was all over Orange senior Andy Rautins in Butler's Sweet 16 victory and continued his gritty play Saturday as he and Willie Veasley combined to hold K-State's dangerous backcourt of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente without a basket until 15 minutes had ticked off the clock. Pullen and Clemente ended just 11 of 30 on the day.
Butler proved they're as good a half-court team that you'll find left in the NCAA Tournament. While their half-court defense frustrated the Wildcats into shooting just 39 percent from the field, their execution on offense was equally as impressive—the Bulldogs shot 46 percent on the day, including 7-15 from the three-point line.
The major player for Butler's offense was Gordon Hayward, who frequently used his 6'9" frame to not only score at will (he ended the game with 22 points) but also draw fouls and be strong on the boards. Hayward, an 82 percent free throw shooter on the season, was 6-6 from the stripe and added nine boards.
The only other player to score in double figures for Butler was Shelvin Mack, who hit some key three-pointers in the first half on his way to 16 points and made a key out-of-bounds save late in the game to help seal the win for the Bulldogs.
For the Wildcats, it was Pullen and Clemente's slow start the eventually did them in. Pullen, averaging 29.5 points in the first three tournament games, had just two points at halftime and only two field goal attempts. The man with the beard had many shots roll off the rim or rattle out, but he also showed that his legs weren't yet rested after K-State's double-overtime win over Xavier on Thursday. He finished with 14 but was just 4-13 from the field.
The Wildcats' second half run to take a late lead was also reminiscent of Butler's Sweet 16 game against Syracuse. In both games, Butler led the entire game, fell slightly behind late and then rebounded to roll until the final buzzer.
After an 8-0 K-State run capped off by a Denis Clemente three off a missed free throw, the Wildcats held a 52-51 lead and looked to be taking control of the game with 4:49 left.
The Bulldogs finished the game on a 12-4 run, however, and ran away with the seven-point victory.