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Mutual respect oozes from Monarchs, Bulldogs

The storylines were drawn quite clearly Wednesday afternoon as both Butler and Old Dominion met the media.

Yes, both coaches have taken a look at the NCAA Tournament game played between these two squads in 2007, a game Butler won, 57-46. No, the importance of Butler keeping Old Dominion off the offensive glass isn't being overstated. And yes, everyone definitely remembers what the Bulldogs did last season, nearly winning the national championship.

While the personnel has completely cycled through since the last time these teams met in 2007, and in Butler's case, the head coach has changed, both Brad Stevens and Blaine Taylor agreed that despite both teams being different, some things remain the same. Taylor popped in video from the contest as his team bussed to D.C. from their campus in Norfolk, Virginia.

"We didn't watch it in a strategic fashion as much as just kind of threw it in and just out of curiosity watched," said Taylor. "We've got different players, but it was an interesting match-up to watch. They won fair and square. Played a great second half."

Stevens aggressively added, "Oh yeah. You've gotta take a look at it."

From the moment this pairing was revealed Sunday, basketball minds knew that this game could very well be won or lost on the boards. The Monarchs are ranked 1st nationally in offensive rebound percentage (45.3 percent), while the Bulldogs check in at 16th nationally in defensive rebound percentage (72.8 percent). "Forty-five percent [offensive rebounding percentage] … incredible statistic. Staggering. It's just an unbelievable amount back," said Stevens.

Taylor knew better than to downplay his team's biggest strength.

"Obviously it's hard to dodge being ranked number one in the country in rebounding. Every game we go into, the other team, that’s all they work on all week is rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. So we're used to having that target on our back."

About Butler, Taylor added, "They've been also rebounding. They're plus three or four rebounds a game, which is pretty good. And so I don't see a great advantage in those areas. We're going to have to create advantages in those areas."

The one thing most reporters wanted to ask both teams about Wednesday, was about Butler's performance last year on this stage. Butler's Shelvin Mack was quick was quick to deflect.

"It's a new team this year," said Mack. "It's going to be a great opportunity for us this year. You know, a lot of people don't expect us to be as good or have the type of success we had last year, which is understandable because this is a different team. But, we just try to improve every day."

Down the hall in Old Dominion's locker room, their players were fair in assessing the fact that Butler's run to the national championship game last season means very little to their situation, but several also owned up to the fact that they were pulling for the Bulldogs last April.

"I can't lie … we stick together, us so-called 'mid-majors'," said Darius James. "But tomorrow is a whole new year, a whole new tournament, and I'm really, really confident in my team and I know that they’re confident in me."

Keyon Carter echoed James' statement by adding, "I was pulling for Butler … I definitely wanted to see Butler take down Duke … They just showed the whole country that the bar between the mid-majors and elite teams is shrinking."

The bar may be shrinking, but two of the country's more distinguished mid-major programs will square off here in D.C. Thursday. One team will go home, while the other will have taken the first step toward making new NCAA Tournament memories.

Memories like those made by the 2009-10 Butler Bulldogs.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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