How The West Was Won
Last night was a crazy night for the teams out West, as 1 seed Syracuse was knocked off by 5 seed Butler, and 2 seed Kansas State needed double overtime to hold off Xavier. It was almost going to be an all mid-major Elite Eight in the West, but Kansas State was able to pull it out at the end of the 2nd overtime. In retrospect I probably shouldn’t be so surprised that Butler won last night, though we should maybe ask the selection committee what they were thinking assigning them just a 5 seed.
Butler has been a dangerous team come tournament time for a couple of seasons now, even advancing to the Sweet 16 in both 2003 and 2007. It still seemed weird seeing them as a 5 seed though, but the reality is this team should have been at least a 3 seed. The Bulldogs finished 11th in the AP Top 25 poll, and 8th in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Why they weren’t a 3 or 4 seed is a fair question. Now I know some might ask, why does that matter if they were 1-2 seeds higher, but in reality it does matter. Seeding is a sign of respect, the higher the seed the easier road you have (theoretically). And I don’t know anyone who watched last night’s game that didn’t think, this is a top 10 team in the country, and their rankings prove that. Unlike teams like Xavier, Saint Mary’s and Northern Iowa, who were barely in the Top 25 or just missed, Butler had been recognized as a top team. Now I realize that seeding isn’t solely done by their final rankings, but remember Butler was an 8th seed in the ESPN poll, I don’t think it would be a stretch to put them down only a few spots as a 3 seed. And dropping them as low as a 5th seed makes them seem like they are more in the middle of the pack.
After last night, I don’t think anyone will take them for granted any longer. Butler controlled the game in the first half, leading by 10 at the break. But the top seeded Orangemen came storming back in the second half. With five and a half minutes to go in the game Syracuse held a four point lead, that’s when Butler took the game over. Scoring 11 straight points and holding Syracuse scoreless until just under a minute left in the game. Syracuse managed 5 points in that final minute, but it wasn’t enough as the Bulldogs won 63-59. Butler showed that they can play with anyone, and while Syracuse was missing their big man, the Bulldogs won that game outright. They out hustled the Orangemen, and to take over in the last five minutes of the game against a team like Syracuse is extremely impressive. The Bulldogs will now face Kansas State (oh so close to a fun mid-major match up) for the chance to advance to Indianapolis for the Final Four. For most teams the NCAA Tournament is ‘win or go home’, for Butler it is now ‘win and go home’, so don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs ‘upset’ another top team, because they have something extra to play for.
Kansas State needed 50 minutes to knock off Xavier last night, as the Musketeers just wouldn’t go away. The game turned out to be pretty much what was expected–a battle between Kansas State’s guards, Jacob Pullen and Dennis Clemente and Xavier’s, Terrell Holloway and Jordan Crawford. The game also turned into a 3-point shooting contest as both teams were over 42% from behind the arc. For awhile it looked as though the superior pure shooting ability of Xavier from the 3-point line and charity stripe would win them the game, but Kansas State’s depth and size did play a factor down the stretch. Xavier had one of their starters foul out, as well as three starters and one top reserve playing with four fouls at the end of the 2nd overtime. Kansas State on the other hand had two players foul out (one starter, one reserve) and another top reserve playing with 4 fouls. Their depth allowed them to handle losing two good players, spread the fouls out so none of their top guys were playing timid when the game was on the line. The Wildcats depth also helped them with the extra minutes as their guys weren’t nearly as tired at the end of the game. It was another great finish, in what has been one of the most competitive and exciting tournaments in the last 10 years.
With the way the West Region has turned out this year, nothing will surprise me in the Elite Eight match up between Butler and Kansas State. The only thing I do know is that it will be fun to watch (and to expect the unexpected).