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Sweet 16 Preview Southeast Regional - (8) Butler (25-9) v. (4) Wisconsin (25-8)

Thursday, March 24 – 30 minutes after Butler/Wisconsin

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Sooner or later, folks around the country will simply stop doubting the Butler Bulldogs. Fresh off a run to last season’s NCAA Tournament title game, the 2011 version of Brad Stevens’s club won back-to-back contests in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament by a combined three points. The latter win dispatched top-seeded Pittsburgh, marking the second straight season in which the Bulldogs have knocked off a one-seed. One year ago, Butler dismissed No. 1 Syracuse in the West Regional semifinals in Salt Lake City. Now, the kids from Indianapolis have once again persevered against a brand-name school. The Butler boys were able to erase another Big East Conference heavyweight and move forward in the land of Bracketville.

After an inconsistent season, star guard Shelvin Mack is seemingly back in top form for Butler. Mack shot the ball tremendously against Pitt, hitting seven 3-point attempts and carrying his team’s offensive workload for most of the first half. The inside presence of Matt Howard, and his ability to do the dirty work within six feet of the tin for the Horizon Conference champion, has aided Butler on countless occasions. Wisconsin’s road to the Sweet 16 hasn’t been easy. The Badgers drew what many assumed to be the best mid-major in the tournament in the round of 64 (the Belmont Bruins from the Atlantic Sun Conference), and a talented Kansas State squad in the next round. Wisconsin answered the call in each of those deathmatches, stepping through landmines and surviving behind tremendous defensive pressure and an ability to make important shots. Forward Jon Leuer has been the catalyst for coach Bo Ryan’s ballclub, leading the Badgers in scoring and providing tremendous heart in the crucible of March Madness competition. Jordan Taylor, the star of the Wisconsin backcourt, will have to break out of a deep offensive funk. Taylor was just 7-of-29 from the floor during the past two games. Yet, the fact that Wisconsin was able to win on each of those nights speaks to the resilience and resourcefulness of a program that regularly squeezes the most out of its available talent.

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The key tension point in Butler-Wisconsin is this: The Bulldogs and Badgers both play close to the vest. The two teams are cut from Big Ten cloth, even though Butler hails from a so-called “mid-major” league. Butler and Wisconsin both rely on their defense and physicality plus an emphasis on patience in halfcourt sets. This game will come down to which team grabs more rebounds and 50-50 balls. Wisconsin might play in the Big Ten, but Butler – with Howard – owns the kinds of players who have made a reputation based on their ability to win loose balls.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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