BUFFALO, N.Y.-- --Mike Green, who will start at point guard for Butler against Maryland in this afternoon's second-round NCAA tournament game, is a sociology/criminology major. Yet in the team media guide, under "My Advice to Youngsters," Green says, "Learn mathematics."
"Math is everything in life. Everything is numbers," Green said yesterday.
Thus, if numbers carry that kind of weight with him, it should be no surprise that Green, a junior, is wrapping up his first season at Butler - and in position to get the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16 for the second time in five years - instead of his senior year at Towson. Butler goes into today's game with a 28-6 record. That's more than the number of wins Green experienced at Towson in two seasons.
See, kids, you didn't think you'd ever really need long division.
"The people there at Towson really treated me well," Green said before Butler practiced at HSBC Arena yesterday. Green paused, then added, "I took a lot of losses there. I just wanted to win. Basketball wasn't as fun to me anymore."
Green, a Philadelphia native, started at point guard for two seasons at Towson, from 2003 to '05, first under Michael Hunt, then under Pat Kennedy. He led the team in assists both years, also led it in steals his freshman year, averaged 11.1 points and 4.3 assists during his time there, and made the dean's list as a freshman. A solid start to a college career, by pretty much any measure.
Except one: the Tigers went 8-21 and 5-24, the eighth and ninth straight losing seasons in their current streak of 11. It changed Green's priorities.
"Towson had the best opportunity for me to play right away. That's what you want to do coming out of high school - all you care about is playing," he said. "It was great for two years, and they threw me into the fire early. I definitely give them credit for that. But for me, it was time for a change."
The decision to transfer drew responses from many of the same schools that had recruited him out of high school - "all the mid-majors," Green laughed. Butler had not been one of them, but when Bulldogs coach Todd Lickliter heard about him from a coaching colleague who saw Green in the Colonial Athletic Association, he made contact.
"We're thankful that we were steered in his direction," Lickliter said. "He has helped us since Day One. He helped us last year, because he practiced every day, and he's a tough guy to practice against.
"What you see on the floor is only a part of the story. He's a very serious student and a terrific teammate," he added. Green carries a 3.3 grade point average and expects to graduate next fall.
Ironically, Butler was coming off a couple of subpar seasons of its own - the Sweet 16 run in 2003 was followed by two years out of the postseason, including a 13-15 record in Green's sophomore season at Towson. (Also ironically, Green was looking to leave Towson just as Gary Neal was looking to transfer in from LaSalle; "We talked," Green said. "It all worked out for him.")
Still, Green was drawn by Butler's atmosphere: the proximity to downtown Indianapolis, the well-known Indiana lunacy over basketball, the fact that Hinkle Fieldhouse was the setting for the mythical championship game in Hoosiers and the Bulldogs' winning tradition.
Green's arrival has helped make this a borderline magical season. Butler's star is unquestionably A.J. Graves, Green's sweet-shooting backcourt mate, but Green makes the engine go in so many ways - shooting (14.1 points a game), penetrating, running the offense (4.0 assists), defending and leading the team in rebounding at a listed 6 feet even.
"I'm 6-1!" Green blurted when that was brought up. "In fact, they left the half [inch] off, too." OK, but a 6-1 1/2 point guard isn't supposed to lead a nationally-ranked team in rebounding, even an undersized nationally-ranked team. In 1954, maybe, when Hoosiers was set, but not in 2007.
"The point guard has to get the ball and go the other way," Green said, explaining how Butler's offense works. "I take pride in that. I don't wait for the outlet pass, I like to get it and go."
Green averages 5.9 rebounds, including 10 in Thursday's first-round win over Old Dominion, his third double-digit rebounding game of the year. That isn't good news for Maryland, which plays better when everybody, including its guards, hits the boards and has gotten in trouble when the rebounding slacks off.
Green and the high-scoring Graves are the two Butler players the Terps have to account for the most. The Maryland players and their one-time local counterpart, however, never interacted. Though most of the Terps seniors were not elite recruits, they were on the big schools' radar far more than Green was. (No, Gary Williams said, answering a question he hears frequently about opposing players within a 3,000-mile radius that are perceived to have "gotten away," he did not recruit Green or know a lot about him in high school, "but I know he's a great basketball player.")
Yet Green takes none of that as motivation for today. Being in the NCAAs is enough.
"Putting up nice numbers isn't all that it cracks up to be," he said. "People only remember winners."
Once again, math is important, especially when you know which numbers count most.