Throughout their unexpected run through the West regional, Butler has played at a defensive level that would make their mascot proud. The Bulldogs have played a tough and determined defense all year, but have been able to put everything together to elevate their game to a Final Four level.
The road to the Final Four has not been easy for the Bulldogs.
In Butler's first round match-up, they faced a very good UTEP team which came into the NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed, despite being ranked in the Top 25 at the end of the regular season.
During the 2009-10 season, the Miners averaged over 75 points per game. When they met the Bulldogs in the first round of the NCAA tournament, however, UTEP hit a brick wall. The Miners scored only 59 points while shooting an anemic 22 percent from behind the arc. Butler's quick and swarming defense was able to disrupt and deny shots, keeping the Miners from finding their form offensively.
In the round of 32, the Bulldogs squared off with a little-known Murray State team. Though Murray State flew under the radar all season, the Racers entered the tournament with a 30-4 record. During the season, Murray State had six players averaging 10 points per game and shot 37.7 percent as a team from three. Despite these impressive offensive numbers, the Bulldogs held the Racers to a season-low 52 points, managing to sneak into the Sweet Sixteen with a two point victory.
As a match-up with the Syracuse Orange approached, ranked fourth in the AP poll, questions of the Bulldogs' ability to shut down the offensive Juggernaut that is Andy Routins and Wes Johnson emerged. With seven players averaging over eight points per game, the Orange were thought by most to be a major contender for the national title.
Again, Butler's defense proved their worth. In a back and forth game, Butler held Syracuse to only 59 points, not allowing Wes or Andy to find any rhythm offensively.
With the No. 1 seeded Orange out of the mix, the only thing standing in the way of the Bulldogs' hopes of a Final Four birth was Jacob Pullen, Denis Clemente, and the Kansas State Wildcats.
Again, the key to the game was Butler's defense against the prolific scoring of the Wildcat's back court. For the fourth straight game, Butler got after it defensively, keeping Pullen and Clemente out of rhythm. Pullen was held to 14 points and Clemente 18 as Butler rolled to a 63-56 victory to cut down the nets in Salt Lake City.
Looking forward to their Final Four match-up with Michigan State, the Bulldogs look to continue their defensive dominance.
Thus far, the Bulldogs have yet to give up more than 59 points in the NCAA tournament. With only two games standing between the Bulldogs and college basketball immortality, Butler will lean on strong defense and consistent scoring to cut down the nets. As the old saying goes, "defense wins championships." In less than a week, this adage will be put to the test. But only one thing is guaranteed, this should be a hell of a weekend to be a college basketball fan.