19 January 2013

Could Butler and Gonzaga be Final Four teams?

Hinkle Fieldhouse will be rocking tonight as the Butler Bulldogs, ranked 13th and sitting at 15-2, will host the Bulldogs of Gonzaga, ranked 8th and 17-1 on the year, in the premiere game this evening. Both of these programs have endeared themselves to America as perennial Cinderellas come March and both have been considered to be Cinderellas so much that it has become a cliché. But could we see either team getting to Atlanta come Tournament time?

Gonzaga has never gotten as far as that first magical run to the Elite Eight back in 1999 (the runner, anyone?) but this is a club that is a real contender to go deep in March. Few teams are as good offensively as the Zags are eighth in the nation with an average of over 80 points per game and they have the fourth most efficient offense in the country. Unlike most mid-majors, this is a club that is blessed with size with four players over 6-foot-8 as well as a pair of seven footers as their team is led by talented (and foreign) big guys in Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris. What may best set them up for March is how well they have played against their major conference opponents, most notably going 4-0 against a solid slate of Big XII opponents in Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State, and have only fallen to what was a hot Illinois team over a month ago. The only possible downside is that the Bulldogs' defense is not at a Final Four level but I don't think that anybody should, or would, be surprised by this team getting deep in the tourney.

Butler has also had its fair share of success this year against their big conference foes as they have already upset Indiana, in memorable fashion, as well as North Carolina in Chapel Hill and are red hot right now, winning 12 in a row since falling to Illinois in Maui and have debuted great in their first few games in the Atlantic 10, even as they have been without their top scorer in Rotnei Clarke, who is out with a sprained neck. A key player for them is their big center Andrew Smith, who has excelled this year in covering skilled centers like Indiana's Tyler Zeller, and he can do some damage in the post as well. And while I have learned to never count out a Brad Stevens coached team come March, the Bulldogs are not that great on defense and while their offense is solid, it leaves them with not that much room for error, says Luke Winn.

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