I say this in the least self-aggrandizing way possible: I ignored the ridicule and picked Butler to make the Final Four in the preseason, the end of the regular season, and the postseason (in my bracket).
I can assure you that I know and believe in this team, because the Bulldogs deserve nothing better than special commendation and respect.
It's a bit frustrating at times observing the surprised type of fan perception of this Butler team's tournament run insofar, since Butler actually was a preseason top-15 team.
Butler understood that it had a special collection of talent this year, and scheduled and performed accordingly. Despite analysis now that states that Butler “arrived” a year early, which is perhaps true, the Butler brass understood the immense talent that the team possessed and expected a postseason run this season.
Butler scheduled accordingly—any mid-major that has the audacity to schedule the likes of Ohio State (albeit without Evan Turner), Xavier, Northwestern, Georgetown, Siena, and Minnesota and come out generally unscathed should expect success.
The form the Bulldogs have demonstrated shows that the team has a legitimate chance at the winning the national title. The team's ability to make it this far into the tournament should already prove this, but there are more reasons nonetheless.
This team is special, and you should know that by now. Vegas has hopped on the Butler bandwagon, labeling the team as 1.5-point favorites against Michigan State in the semi-final matchup, and I will try to convince you to do the same.
Butler ultimately is one team you can root for in a generally outstanding group of Final Four teams, and I hope to convince you to hop on the bandwagon as well with the following list of reasons.
Butler in terms of stature fits the Hoosiers reference perfectly—but the team concurrently doesn’t fit the reference at all. This team is no Hickory High, and it isn’t the representative for small schools that have no chance to get to the Final Four.
Butler was a preseason top-15 team that has participated in nine out of the last 14 NCAA Tournaments, two of the appearances leading to the Sweet 16 and now this one leading to the Final Four.
Butler’s program is fundamentally rock-solid and methodical, and more or less prestigious. If anything, Butler perfectly encapsulates the image of a home-grown program that consistently reloads and executes.
This Butler team differentiates itself from the George Masons of the world because of the talent it possesses. Butler reached a Final Four not only because of its team will and execution, but because it possesses NBA talent on its roster. Butler will be out-talented by teams, but never by much.
Butler does not carry the persona on a mid-major team—this confidence is indispensible to Butler’s current success and future hopes.
Butler has the innate advantage of lying in a hotbed of college basketball—the Midwest—and recruits accordingly. Although Butler will rarely compete with high-major schools for hyped prospects, the team has its pick of good players from its backyard.
Butler happened to pick 10 of these backyard players (10 of the players on the current roster are from Indiana), and the 10 players that play “the Butler way.”
Hard to define but easy to understand, the Butler Way encapsulates the principle of teamwork that every basketball coach dreams about. Every player hustles on defense, works hard on offense, has a distinct skill and role on the team, and plays smart and savvy basketball.
Execution is such a huge factor in winning one-off tournament games and probably the sole factor in which Butler will almost always hold a distinct advantage over its opponents.
Butler may not be more talented than other high-major opponents, but they can still play. The talent that they do possess, which is plenty, makes them all the more dangerous.
Brad Stevens is perhaps the perfect coach to lead this Butler team. He was the epitome of a Butler Way player during his playing days: unselfish, smart, a sharpshooter, and a passer; thus it makes total sense that Stevens’ team plays accordingly.
Stevens, like his accomplished predecessors Collier, Matta, and Lickliter, knows how to coach this team. Stevens rise from coaching volunteerism makes his coaching story that much better.
This Final Four field has no elite point guard—I believe that this heightens the importance of collective team intelligence and chemistry.
With no stellar point guard able to command the floor, team execution on offensive sets will fall on the burden of entire teams. Michigan State (even without Lucas) and Butler are the most refined teams out of the Final Four in my opinion.
Every Butler player understands his role and plays accordingly. Veasley, and Mack make shots, Nored dishes, Hayward makes plays, and Howard works inside.
Butler crashes the boards and holds the ball well (don’t use the Kansas State game as a point of reference) and plays suffocating defense.
This should bode well for the Bulldogs.
Butler's a team that will jack the three with great regularity but actually matches up well against Michigan State.
Statistics from offensive efficiency ratings indicate that Butler can take 50 percent of their shots from behind the arc, which is scary. But Butler manages to win, and that's all that matters in the end.
Michigan State, nonetheless, allows 43.5 FG percentage on defense. This should bode well for Butler, a decent shooting team with two 40-percent shooters (Dukes and Mack) and a shoot-first mentality.
Butler's ability to dictate pace against "better" teams in Syracuse and Kansas State, the latter especially, will heighten the effectiveness of Butler's clear inside-outside philosophy.
Furthermore, against Michigan State, Butler's lack of front-court size won't be as obvious (even though Butler has help its own against big front-courts in UTEP, Syracuse, etc.)
Butler has four guys who took more than 100 three-point shots during the season. That's right, not one or two guys, but four. To boot, offensive efficiency statistics show that Butler will most likely take 50 percent of their shots from behind the arc.
We tend to have a fundamental gut feeling that over-reliance on the three-ball is a bad thing, but he have to realize that Butler only shoots 34.6-percent from 3-point land.
That clip isn't astronomically high. Butler, therefore, has proven that while the 3-pointer is a staple of their offense, it is not the only means by which they score.
Otherwise, they wouldn't have won as many games as they have won.
Butler isn't as reliant on the three as this year's Cornell team is, per se. Hayward, Howard, and even Nored provide very viable alternative scoring options. These options make the Butler offense all the more potent.
Butler has room for error on offensive because it plays suffocating defense, plain and simple.
Butler's defense is superb; it's not often you hear more talk about Syracuse's inability to score against Butler rather than Butler's ability to break Syracuse's heralded zone.
Butler's defensive efficiency is 86.9 (compared to the average of 100.8), which ranks the Bulldogs sixth in the nation on defense.
Butler's defensive stats (besides the one describing overarching efficiency) aren't gaudy whatsoever, proving that Butler gets its defensive job done through effort. awareness, and fundamentals.
Butler doesn't let teams get offensive rebounds, forces enough turnovers to make teams change the way they play offense, and forces teams to shoot threes.
Although Michigan State specifically runs a lot of motion offense (like Butler) that involves great physicality and offensive intelligence, Butler's floor awareness should be able to dampen the effectiveness of Michigan State's offensive execution.
While the Spartans have a lot of offensive variety, involving set-play offense, pick-and-rolls, and other ball screens, Butler's flexible, team-oriented defensive mentality should help Butler adjust to Spartan offensive sets and counter, floor-called plays.
I think the biggest thing that makes Butler a championship contender compared to a Cinderella story is the fact that Brad Stevens has NBA-potential talent on his roster.
Gordon Hayward leads his team in terms of NBA potential; he is already projected as a late lottery pick.
Hayward is indispensable to Butler in terms of his ability to take over games and will his team to victory. He drives, shoots, dishes, plays defense, and leads this team.
He makes plays, plain and simple. Think of the Duke trio all in one, and better.
Matt Howard, Butler's only post player, has a knack for picking up fouls. Yet Butler still wins despite such adversity.
While Stevens and Butler obviously want Howard on the floor, the Bulldogs are well acquainted with "Howardlessness," as Basketball Prospectus describes it.
Anyway, the loss of Howard due to foul trouble usually translates to only ten or so minutes of floor time.
Considering Butler is a perimeter-first offensive team, Howard's effect on offense isn't as great as perceived. Hayward is big enough to drive his defender inside, which mitigates Howard's loss.
Furthermore, Mack and Hayward clean up the defensive boards surprisingly well in general, and in Howard's absence.
In the year that Cornell advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, Northern Iowa dropped Kansas in the second round, and the two national championship-favorites got dropped before the Final Four, anything can happen.
The year that saw a flurry of first-round upsets may show Butler as our national championship: it's that type of year.
Butler's talent, tenacity, and intangibles could legitimately win this Bulldogs team a championship. It would be no surprise, because this Butler team is special in so many ways.