#6 Butler Bulldogs vs. #3 Marquette Warriors -1.5
These two teams met in the very beginning of the season in a game that accurately foreshadowed the parity and madness that was soon to ensue. Neither team was ranked at the time, but watching them play in Maui, it was obvious you were looking at a pair of NCAA Tournament teams. The Bulldogs won at the buzzer on a miraculous Rotnei Clark running three pointer, and the bulldogs have been picking off ranked foes ever since.
Butler has been formidable all season long, knocking off elite teams like Gonzaga, Indiana and the aforementioned Marquette. However, they have shown some vulnerabilities as well, dropping games to Xavier and La Salle, and being completely emasculated twice by a more physical and athletic St. Louis team.
Marquette is certainly battle tested as well. Though the Big East has not had a great start to the tourney with Georgetown’s shocking upset and Pitt and Notre Dame getting trounced by 20-plus in near ‘pick-em’ games, winning a share of the regular season crown is pretty impressive. One caveat – that crown was aided in part by a beneficial schedule. While Georgetown and Syracuse squared off twice, and Louisville and Notre Dame met twice, Marquette played none of the top four teams in a home and home.
The common thought I am reading is that this is a different Marquette team than the one Butler saw out in Maui with the improvement of both of their bigs and the emerging leadership of Vander Blue. I’d argue the exact same for Butler. Andrew Smith has become an effective scorer in the post after looking clumsy for most of his three seasons prior and Roosevelt Jones has become an all-around leader and star. Add in the fact that Rotnei Clark was playing in his first games at Butler after transferring and is now comfortable in the system – and STILL one of the most lethal hair-trigger releases in college basketball, and you have a pretty formidable foe.
Most of all, I’ll take the tactics and strategy of Brad Stevens on short preparation over just about any coach in the country. Yes, I’m including Pitino and Coach K, Roy Williams, Self, Izzo – all of ‘em. Brad Stevens continues to get it done EVERY March, and usually with a less “athletic” or “talented” team than he is facing. The NCAA Tournament road is littered with Butler’s high profile conquests over the past three years. Marquette won’t qualify as a heroic upset, but it would be yet another impressive win in the rapid ascension of Butler basketball.
I’ll take Rotnei Clark going off and leading Butler to the win today.
Free Pick: Butler Bulldogs +1.5
Bonus Pick: #12 Oregon Ducks vs. #4 St. Louis Billikens -3
I’m reluctant to even put the seed in the title here, because let’s be frank; this is NO normal 4 vs. 12 matchup. This is more of a 4/5 game, and the slim three point line well reflects that truth. Oregon is no joke. They finished second in the Pac-12 and won the Pac-12 conference tournament. They enter at 27-8, and it is a fair argument that they likely WIN the Pac-12 outright and have two or three less losses had they not suffered the injury to point guard Dominic Artis.
Oregon is a very, very good basketball team.
But so is St. Louis. For fans who haven’t seen much A-10 regular season basketball or gotten an opportunity to actually WATCH this St. Louis team, you are in for an eye-opener. This is a team full of strong MEN; they start all juniors and seniors who are incredibly physical and are one of the most sure-handed teams in the country. They don’t give up second shots and they don’t turn the ball over.
Most people have been impressed with the opening round big wins by VCU and Butler. Temple also impressed in their opener and La Salle knocked off Kansas State yesterday to advance to the Round of 32.
St Louis beat EVERY one of those teams by DOUBLE DIGITS this year.
I’ve been screaming and hollering about the Billikens all season, long before they were ranked and on the cusp of becoming media darlings. I’m not backing off now. Today is a tough matchup, but I’ll take the tougher Billikens to prevail.
Free Pick: St. Louis Billikens -3