The Butler men’s basketball team is not the most sought after for photo opportunities here in Houston.
Butler’s live mascot, Butler Blue II, is hands down the most popular person, or rather, mammal in the “Space City.”
But you’d think he was a person if you were in his presence. The way he is spoken to and the way he is treated to some of the finer things in life makes the personification all that much more believable.
FoxSports.com reinforced that perception earlier today when their “College Experiment” show filmed a segment with Blue and a female getting massages and sharing a martini together.
The martini, sipped at the Intercontinental Hotel, was named in the bulldog’s honor, and naturally contained blueberries.
During the shoot, Blue regularly stood up to try to eat from his food bowl, or got tired and put his head down to nap.
Michael Kaltenmark, Blue’s handler and “father,” spoke to him much like a parent would.
“Blue, stay. You know better,” Kaltenmark said a few times. An occasional “C’mon, Blue,” slipped out as well.
Just call it tough love from a loving father.
“I love this job,” Kaltenmark said behind the scenes of the shoot. “I’d like to keep as long as they’ll let me.”
Blue is in Houston for his second consecutive Final Four, which has brought about a higher degree of normalcy for players, students and fans accustomed to having Blue present at games in Hinkle Fieldhouse.
After two weekends of NCAA tournament play without Blue alongside the Butler team, all is right with the world, or at least Houston.
The Bulldogs and Rams both may have young and powerful head basketball coaches, but the schools couldn’t be more different. And, sure, while we might have one national championship appearance on them, VCU’s drive and skills on the court make them a key opponent that’s still up for the big win. Click and drag the chart to see how else we compare:
Senior forward Matt Howard’s hometown of Connersville, Ind., is sponsoring the Howard family’s travel to Houston.
The town raised $13,000 to help ensure the family of 12 would be complete in Texas.
“I think everyone but one of my brothers [is here],” Howard said. “His wife is pregnant and due here pretty soon, so he needs to be with her. It all means quite a bit to me—that so many of my brothers, sisters, mom and dad were able to come down and that people were able to help them get here.”
The Howard clan departs for Houston tonight. Around the same time, a bus of Dawg Pound members will arrive to join the sporadic waves of other Butler fans traveling independently.
The Butler men’s basketball team seemed comfortable and focused today on the eve of their national semifinal game against No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth.
The No. 8 seed Bulldogs (27-9) spent their 50-minute practice in rhythm and unfazed by the bright lights or open space of Houston’s Reliant Stadium.
Some of that was due to the experience from last year’s Final Four in Indianapolis Lucas Oil Stadium. Some is also due to a schedule similar to last weekend’s in New Orleans, where the Bulldogs also practiced at a nearby university prior to the on-site practice.
But senior forward Matt Howard said performance on the hardwood is more important than the space around it or the routine prior to suiting up.
“At some point, it’s about execution and really doesn’t matter if you’ve been here before or not,” he said. “You’re still going to have to make plays and execute the game plan.”
Still, senior guard Shawn Vanzant said the Bulldogs’ tournament appearances the last two years have been a blessing.
“A lot of people have played Division I basketball and didn’t get a chance to make the tournament, let alone make it to the Final Four two years in a row,” he said. “But I always felt we had a chance to be special.
“I always thought we could make it this far.”
Senior guard Zach Hahn agreed.
“I used to tell Matt [Howard], who I have always been good friends with and played AAU ball with, ‘Come to Butler and we’ll do something special,’” Hahn said.
Butler’s opponent is perhaps even more special—in terms of history—than making it to consecutive Final Fours.
The Rams (28-11) finished with an 11-7 record in the Colonial Athletic Association and were one of the last four teams given an at-large bid into the field of 68.
Both considered mid-majors, Butler and VCU will be playing for the right to play No. 3 seed Connecticut or No. 4 seed Kentucky—both schools from one of the country’s six major conferences.
The difference between the two teams lies within their strengths and tempos.
VCU is strong in transition and along the perimeter, thanks to senior guard Joey Rodriguez. Butler is stronger in a half-court offense with methodical play calling, thanks to the poise of junior guard Shelvin Mack.
VCU thrives on energetic play, exemplified by VCU head coach Shaka Smart taking charges and diving for loose balls during practice. Butler thrives on calculations and playing the percentages, symbolized by the in-game teamwork of Butler’s coaching staff.
Butler head coach Brad Stevens kept his glasses securely on during the open practice, taking no charges and leaving the physical activity to the players and managerial staff.
Stevens continues to assure everyone that he’s not been sought out for any eye wear endorsements and that wearing glasses is a matter of necessity.
“You’re always somewhat superstitious as a coach, but the reason I’m wearing the glasses is so I can see,” Stevens said. “I’ve found I’m a better coach when I can see than when I can’t.”
The Bulldogs and Rams face off in the first national semifinal, which is set to tip at 6:09 p.m. ET.
Players like Howard are the ones who Butler head coach Brad Stevens said coaches dream about.
“When you’re dreaming of coaching an you think of the guy who’s going to give you everything he has and represent your school in a positive manner in every way to the best of his ability, you think of Matt Howard,” Stevens said.
During the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships, fans often forget that the athletes playing the games are also college students. But Butler University hasn’t forgotten. Although some of its students are athletes, they are always students before anything else.
We at The Butler Collegian, are proud to say that Butler athletes are able to balance the extreme academic rigor of our university with the success of their team.
This year, Butler won the National Higher Education Bracket. This accomplishment proves that Butler athletes work just as hard in the classroom as they do on the court. Butler has been called “America’s Team” after scrapping their way to this year’s Final Four Tournament in Houston, Texas. But it is more than Butler’s incredible run in both this year and last year’s NCAA Tournament that inspires fans around the country to root our school on to victory. It is the team’s humility that has captured hearts around the nation. The team has worked resiliently to not only be victorious over our opponents, but also to keep up with academic work.
Butler University is that rare school whose athletes go to classes on a game day. Butler athletes don’t miss a class unless they absolutely have to. For other universities that partake in the tournament, it seems that their priorities are basketball and then schoolwork, whereas Butler athletes strive to be premier students before premier basketball players.
We are very proud to be so well-represented at the tournament by our team. It is a rare gift for a university as small as Butler to be in the Final Four for the second year in a row, in addition to being described as America’s Team while still reaching the high academic bar that Butler sets for all of its students.
Butler athletes don’t get private tutors so they can miss classes and still maintain grades. These athletes attend every class, and when they have road games, professors may extend deadlines or allow them to take exams early but the same level of work is still present.
Butler athletes aren’t given the option to take the easy way out of assignments and projects. These characteristics embody The Butler Way. Butler students are taught and expected to give the best effort possible on everything we do. This has made an obvious transition out of the classroom and into life practice. Butler athletes work as hard in the classroom as they do on the court. This sense of determination is what propels Butler University forward in everything we do.
The entire Butler University community, the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana are incredibly lucky to have an organization like the Bulldog Athletics program. It is clear that their priorities are straight when it comes to focusing on the court as well as in the classroom. When a small school like ours immediately rises to the national spotlight for athletics, it is always nice to be recognized for something else besides how many points are put up in a game or our season average.
The Butler men’s basketball team is headed back to the Final Four despite a January and February full of experts spouting opinions to the contrary.
The doubters had their reasons.
First, Gordon Hayward left. Then, senior Willie Veasley couldn’t be replaced. And surely losses at Louisville, Xavier and a three-game losing streak that culminated at Youngstown State had proven the Bulldogs (27-9) were no longer among the nation’s elite.
But Butler has again done what they seem to do so well—prove others wrong.
Four NCAA tournament wins and millions of busted brackets later, the No. 8 seed Butler has punched a ticket to Houston, where they will play the No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth Rams.
“It’s a tribute to the Butler system,” sophomore center Andrew Smith said. “When you lose a great player like Gordon Hayward, people are going to underestimate you, but we’ve been able to turn it around.”
It took a full team effort to get Butler back to the Final Four. Roles had to be realigned and new obstacles had to be overcome.
Senior forward Matt Howard and junior guard Shelvin Mack have been at the front of the pack.
While many nationwide have continued to focus on Howard as a ‘turtleneck sock-wearing,’ nerdy Ichabod Crane,” he has continued doing what he loves to do most—win basketball games with his “brothers.”
Howard is averaging 16.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game during the 2011 NCAA tournament. He also had game-winning shots in the Bulldogs’ second- and third-round wins.
Mack has been right with Howard in the upper eschelons of tournament statistics. His 21.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game during the March tournament run earned him the Southeast Region MVP.
This season, Smith has given some room for Mack and now Howard to work on the perimeter.
A 6-foot-11-inch graduate of local Covenant Christian High School, Smith has successfully played the post position in February and March. He doesn’t always blow up the stat sheet, but he does provide size against large opponents and allows teammates to play to their strengths.
Defense has been a huge part of the Bulldogs’ return to the Final Four with senior guard Shawn Vanzant and junior guard Ronald Nored being the keys to that effort.
Their ability to guard the perimeter and corral quick point guards, like Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor and Florida’s Erving Walker, have forced deep, difficult shots from opponents and allowed other parts of the scouting report to be executed.
Bench play has also been key in this year’s deep tournament run. When Smith got into foul trouble, Mack rolled an ankle or a spark was needed, the bench was there.
Junior forward Garrett Butcher, senior guard Zach Hahn, freshman guard Chrishawn Hopkins and freshman forward Khyle Marshall have been the support system in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans.
Each had a performance that got the Bulldogs through tough times.
Butcher defended the middle against Old Dominion. Hahn kept things close against Florida in the first half.
Hopkins dished out a no-look assist and then made a 3-pointer in the second half against Florida. Marshall grabbed seven offensive rebounds against the Gators.
The bulk of the work has been done by Howard, Mack, Smith and Vanzant, but a handful of other Bulldogs have each had their part in overcoming a wave in the NCAA tournament’s open sea.
And of course, Butler head coach Brad Stevens has been the glue to bring the pieces together.
“I think he’s one of the best in-game coaches in country,” Nored said. “He does a good job of analyzing teams by numbers first and then getting a feel for how they play.
“He shows us that the little details add up to the big picture.”
Rams: The New “Giant Killers”
Somehow, Stevens, 34, won’t be the youngest head coach in the game.
Shaka Smart, 33, leads the Rams—the “hottest” team in the country and yet still a team that barely made it into the field of 68.
They share more than youth, though. Both have a strong passion for the game, according to Hahn.
The Rams (28-11) have a five-game winning streak, but all of those wins are in the NCAA tournament and against “bigger,” or more major, conferences.
Consider the prestige of the Rams’ victims during this year’s tournament: No. 11 seed Southern California (Pacific-10), No. 6 seed Georgetown (Big East), No. 3 seed Purdue (Big Ten), No. 10 seed Florida State (ACC) and No. 1 seed Kansas (Big 12).
Butler is not from a major conference, but that shouldn’t temper VCU’s ability to play as the underdog. No experts expected the Rams to be where they are now, much like none of them picked Butler to be winner of the Southeast Region.
Stevens called humility a core principle of the Butler program, and that should keep the Bulldogs from overlooking a team that others have in March.
The five days prior to the national semifinal may be what Stevens and the Bulldogs need to prepare for the otherwise surprising Rams.
The matchup epitomizes March Madness and the seemingly changing landscape of college men’s basketball, one in which conference affiliation, media exposure and training facilities aren’t determining factors of how deep a team can go in the tournament.
One of these two unlikely foes—Butler or VCU—will be playing in the national championship game Monday night in Houston against a team from a major conference (Kentucky or Connecticut).
The Butler-VCU national semifinal game tips Saturday at 6:09 p.m.
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