MTSU won't back down against Butler
MILWAUKEE -- It is the NCAA Tournament, so there must be an underdog. But while 12th-seeded Middle Tennessee fits the textbook definition, the Blue Raiders certainly don't see themselves as anything less than one of the best teams in the country.
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They will try to get the rest of the country to recognize that Saturday when they take on fourth-seeded Butler in a second-round South Region matchup at the Bradley Center and with a short turnaround time, the Blue Raiders' plan of attack is pretty simple.
"Just come out in the paint like we are capable of doing and not just trying to play somebody else's game," Middle Tennessee junior forward Brandon Walters said. "We can't just run up and down the floor. We just have to play our game."
Protecting the ball is a key to the Blue Raiders' success. It paid off again in the first round, as they committed just eight turnovers while assisting on 19 of 28 baskets in an 81-72 win over fifth-seeded Minnesota.
"We're one of the top 15 teams in the country in assist to turnovers," Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis said.
But while Middle Tennessee's offense was clicking in the first round, Davis doesn't expect a lot of offensive records to be broken against the Bulldogs.
"It's two good defensive teams," he said. "You beat Villanova twice (as Butler did), you've got to be a heck of a defensive team. ... We've done a lot of scouting on them. It's always been one of the best-positioned defenses in the country, you know, so we have to have great ball movement."
Butler is coming of its best regular season in program history and is trying to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2011. The Bulldogs made easy work of Winthrop in the first round, winning 76-64. Butler shot 49 percent while going 20 of 30 from the free throw line.
"Getting to the free-throw line is important to us, it needs to be -- (it might) be more important for us than what it has been at times," coach Chris Holtmann said. "The Big East is brutal, and it's a very physical league. ... That was a big part of our game plan is could we impact things from the paint out and offensively."
Butler will also need to keep the ball moving against Middle Tennessee.
"We know whenever we move the ball from side to side, get paint touches, everything like that, that's when we're at our best," Bulldogs senior forward Andrew Chrabascz said. "When we're stationary playing a little bit one on one, that's when we're hurting ourself."
Since making back-to-back trips to the Final Four in 2010 and '11, the Bulldogs have failed to get past the Tournament's first weekend. They were bounced in the first round last year by Virginia.
Winning in March has become an expectation for Butler fans, but Holtmann says his team embraces the challenge.
"There's pressure every time we play, but we love it," he said. "If you don't love pressure, you're in the wrong spot at the wrong time. We're going to embrace it and have a lot of fun and cut loose and play -- we're going to play a great team."