Posted by Jeff Borzello
Over the past decade, Michigan State consistently made deep runs in the NCAA tournament despite entering the Big Dance as a five-seed or lower multiple times.
Under Tom Izzo, the Spartans are never written off, no matter how poorly they are playing heading into the NCAA tournament.
If the past two seasons are any indication, we might have a new Michigan State: Butler.
As a No. 5 seed, it went to the title game. As a No. 8 seed, it’s one step away from a return trip to the Final Four.
With Brad Stevens at the helm, this team is built for March. The Bulldogs defend as well as anyone in country, and they are constantly underrated on the offensive end.
This season, Butler stumbled through the first three months of the season before finishing on a tear and getting into the NCAA tournament as an eight seed. No one doubted the Bulldogs in the Horizon League tournament despite needing to beat Milwaukee – a team Butler had lost to twice already – on the road in the title game.
Once they get into the tournament, the Bulldogs are a battle-tested group that knows how to win when it counts. In the second round, they beat Old Dominion on a lay-up at the buzzer by Matt Howard. Against Pittsburgh in the memorable round of 32 contest, Butler took the lead on a perfectly-designed play by Stevens and then edged out a win after a game-winning free throw by Matt Howard.
On Thursday, the Bulldogs held Wisconsin to 54 points, including just three points in the first nine minutes of the second half. The nation’s second-most efficient offense shot 30.4 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from 3-point range, turning the ball over 11 times. Point guard Jordan Taylor, who came into the game with 38 turnovers in 33 games, gave up the ball four times against Butler’s stingy defense.
Butler's last seven NCAA tournament wins have come by a combined 25 points – the Bulldogs know how to make plays down the stretch. It doesn’t matter that they struggled to beat good teams during the regular season; the Big Dance is a clean slate for everyone.
And when two teams head into games with a clean slate, Butler has an advantage. Stevens is one of the best coaches in the country, the Bulldogs always execute well offensively and defend their tails off at the other end. The stars may change, but the system doesn’t.
Butler knows how to win in March -- even if it struggles in January or February.
Sounds just like one particular Big Ten power. Maybe Butler's Final Four win over Michigan State last year was more than just another national semifinal win.
Maybe it was a passing of the torch.
Photo: US Presswire
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