WASHINGTON D.C. --—Less than 24 hours from tip-off for Butler's 3rd Round NCAA Tournament match-up with No. 1 seed Pittsburgh, it seems the Bulldogs will have to do many of the same things they did in beating Old Dominion, but better.
Old Dominion ranked as the best offensive rebounding team in the nation at 45.3 percent. Pittsburgh ranks second at 43.2 percent. In reality, the Bulldogs were ineffective keeping the Monarchs off the offensive glass, as ODU reeled in 48.1 percent of their own misses against Butler, but the Dawgs made up that ground by attacking the offensive glass as well. Butler captured a season-high 52.9 percent of their own missed shots, a major factor that kept the game close, and eventually allowing Matt Howard to win the contest in buzzer-beating fashion.
Against Pittsburgh, Brad Stevens is looking for his team to perform better on the defensive glass -- something they've done well all season, but failed to do on Thursday.
"We've gotta be a lot better on the glass tomorrow than we were yesterday, and it may not be validated in the numbers if we are. We may not outrebound them, but we've got to be a lot better getting a percent -- the correct percentage back on the defensive glass." Stevens concluded, "If you give them 40 percent back, they get four out of every ten shots, you're probably going to get beat."
Pittsburgh also resembles Old Dominion in a physical sense, with 6-11 Anderson native Gary McGhee roaming the paint. For McGhee, this is a special opportunity to play against not only a team from his home state of Indiana, but a former conference rival in Butler's Howard. McGhee recalled, "He was a slim kid; I was kind of big, kind of chunky kid. And now we're different players, both improved tremendously. So it's going to be different being on the court tomorrow.
Howard added, "Yeah, we've had a lot of battles over the years, and he's huge, he's a very imposing figure, and he really plays hard. And that's been true in every game that I've every played against him. And I guess it's sort of neat in a way that we're meeting again in the NCAA tournament. It's the first time since high school."
The talk of physical play in this contest, and the match-ups between Butler's Howard and Andrew Smith against Pitt's McGhee and Nasir Robinson seems to be originating from the message sent by the Bulldogs in their victory over Old Dominion. Pittsburgh Head Coach Jamie Dixon was quick to point out that despite Butler maybe not looking like a big, physical team, they certainly play like it on the defensive end of the floor.
"They take great pride in their physicality on defense, and their ability to play, though maybe smaller, but to be physical and not backing down and not giving ground," said Dixon. He added, "I think team defense is what they base a lot of their stuff on."
In Pittsburgh, Butler sees a bigger version of themselves. "They're very ... very strong. We gotta box out every play and we know it's gonna be a hard-fought game," said Shelvin Mack.
These two programs may not have any ties that bind them, but they certainly seem to have plenty of familiarity with each other. Of course, Mack played under Dixon two summers ago with the USA Basketball Under-19 Team, a team that also featured Pitt's go-to scorer, Ashton Gibbs. According to Mack, he and Gibbs talk on occasion, but have not spoken since arriving in Washington D.C..
Butler has stared down long odds in the past, and come away victorious. Saturday's game may present the longest odds they've faced in an NCAA Tournament game, given that it's taking place on the first weekend, with the field of contenders and pretenders still sorting itself out. But if the Bulldogs have proven anything over the years, it's that they won't be intimidated by any team they face.
Even if that team is a bigger, stronger, more talented version of themselves.