It has been a little more than a month since Atlantic 10 conference play began in men’s basketball.
Each school has participated in nine games in conference play.
And yet we’re no closer to determining who the league’s top dog (no pun intended) is.
The four teams that will earn a first-round bye in the 12-team conference tournament are far from set in stone.
I’m going to take a look at the league’s top nine teams—based on in-conference record—and their upcoming schedules to determine which squad will take the No. 1 seed and which teams will round out the top four seeds in the A-10 tournament.
First and ninth place in the league standings are separated by two losses. With seven conference matchups remaining for each team, it’s not ridiculous to suggest the team currently sitting in ninth place could win the league.
Butler, Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis occupy the first three spots, each with 7-2 marks in A-10 play.
Positions four through six are held by a trio of 6-3 squads: Massachusetts, La Salle and Xavier.
The final three teams currently above .500 in league play are Charlotte, Temple and George Washington, all holding 5-4 records.
So which team has the fast track to the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, or at least a first-round bye via a top-four seed?
That would be the La Salle Explorers.
La Salle’s final seven foes have a combined record of 26-37, worst of the top nine teams.
The Explorers’ opponents are, on the whole, statistically weak in just about every offensive and defensive category.
But let’s get to what many of you probably want to know: How difficult is Butler’s road to the A-10 throne?
The Bulldogs’ opponents have combined for 33 victories against 30 losses in A-10 action this season.
Records don’t always tell the entire story though.
Butler will be facing some poor shooting squads down the road.
On the defensive end, it is a completely different story for Butler’s remaining foes.
The Bulldogs have the toughest slate of these nine squads when it comes to opponents’ overall rebounding.
Senior center Andrew Smith’s recent injury could not have come at a worse time, as he is the team’s second-best rebounder.
Butler has the third-most difficult schedule when it comes to opponents’ shooting defense. The Bulldogs will also deal with the fourth most difficult schedule as it pertains to 3-point shooting defense.
Statistically, Butler has the second-toughest final seven conference games of the teams listed above.
Still, I think it can attain the No. 1 seed in the A-10 tournament thanks to its early-season conference success, battle-tested nature and Brad Stevens’ coaching.
I will take VCU as the event’s No. 2 seed.
Statistically the Rams have just as challenging a remaining schedule as Butler, but adversity is something this former Final Four participant is familiar with.
Saint Louis has the toughest remaining A-10 run, facing seven teams with winning records.
I have a hard time slotting the Billikens in the No. 3 spot because of this.
Massachusetts is my sleeper pick with a middle-of-the-road remaining schedule. The Minutemen have been fairly consistent in A-10 action, so they are my current No. 3 seed.
For the No. 4 seed, it’s a toss-up between Saint Louis and La Salle.
The Explorers have a big mountain to climb being two losses behind Saint Louis.
Fittingly, the teams face off in their final game of the regular season. That could decide which team gets a bye in the A-10 tournament and which has to play right away.
These next four weeks should be a blast for A-10 fans across the nation.
The Butler men’s soccer team picked up its first win of the season with a 2-0 victory over Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis last night at the Butler Bowl.
Scoring for the Bulldogs were sophomore Brandon Fricke and senior Tyler Pollock.
Both teams came out strong to start the game and continued to take their chances at goal with no luck until Fricke broke the tie at the 55th minute of the match.
Fricke scored the goal off a free kick on a pass from Zach Steinberger and then rocketed the ball from 20 yards out past Jaguar goalkeeper Eduardo Cortes into the bottom left corner of the net. It was his first goal of the season and the second of his career.
The Bulldogs added another goal in the 77th minute when senior Tyler Pollock took a cross from freshman Jeff Adkins and laid the ball into the corner of the net from 15 yards out.
“I thought tonight we started off real well. We had a great game plan and we really wanted impose our attacking philosophy on the game.” coach Paul Snape said about last night’s contest, “I think we created some great chances and we were patient and it worked for us tonight.”
Junior Austin Oldham had a team-high four shots, including two shots on goal for the Bulldogs.
Adkins added three shots for the Bulldogs in the match.
Junior goalkeeper Jon Dawson continued his presence in the goal for Butler as he earned his second shutout of the season, while racking up three saves in the second half.
The victory came after two consecutive draws in the VCU Nike Classic last weekend.
Butler ended its season opener against College of William & Mary in a draw after 110 minutes of play. Both teams combined for 33 shots in the match and 12 of those attempts were on goal.
“I believe a big trip like this one to Virginia really helped us feel like we are a big program,” Dawson said. “A draw wasn’t really the goal we had in mind going into the tournament, but we’ll take it and it will help us get better throughout the course of this season.”
Butler moved on to their second game of the weekend as it took on Bucknell last Sunday.
The Bulldogs scored their first goal early and continued that advantage through the first half and through the first 13 minutes of play in the second period.
Dawson shined again in the second match saving two of three shots on goal while junior Austin Oldham led the Bulldogs with eight shots, including four shots on goal, in the weekend’s two matches.
The Bison tied the match in the 58th minute when a throw-in by Mayowa Alli ended in a ricochet shot off a Butler defender and into the Bulldogs’ goal.
The match ended in a 1-1 draw.
The Bulldogs will continue their three-match homestand against Northern Kentucky on Friday, Sept. 7. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Butler Bowl.
Since Butler eliminated Virginia Commonwealth in last night’s national semifinal game, things are back to normal, or as normal as they can get on the eve of a national championship.
The No. 8 seed Bulldogs are about to appear in their second consecutive national title game, and many outside the “Butler Bubble” continue to be in awe of a Hayward-less team repeating a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Butler (28-9) is back to being the underdog and will face No. 3 seed Connecticut (31-9), led by head coach Jim Calhoun and junior point guard Kemba Walker.
Butler has kept a business-as-usual approach throughout the tournament and even in the intense heat of the national spotlight. Players continue to have what head coach Brad Stevens called a “normal road trip”—attending study tables while on the road and Skype-ing into classes should they be asked to.
But even as Butler continues to preach they’re handling things with their ho-hum approach, it’s undeniable that they’ve changed the landscape of college basketball forever.
Final Four runs by other mid-majors, such as George Mason in 2006, can be written off by college basketball bluebloods as “flukes” or “anomalies.”
But Butler’s back-to-back appearances in the championship game are neither of those. The two-year journey is a result of a young head coach running what he calls “a values-based program with a mission and a vision” and finding ways to win on the court with a mix of young and old talent.
Butler has even managed to change the way some refer to mid-majors, as there’s a newfound sense of higher respect for schools from non-BCS conferences.
Ironically enough, Butler will have to defeat a school from the nation’s largest conference in order to be the 2011 National Champions.
Connecticut, which won the Big East conference tournament as the No. 9 seed, will be led by the NBA-level talent of Walker. In the month of March, Walker averaged 26.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.0 steals per game in March and had 18 points with seven assists last night against No. 4 seed Kentucky.
Walker will be supported by the team’s second-leading scorer, starting freshman guard Jeremy Lamb, who had 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists against the Wildcats.
A lesser-known key to the Huskies’ game is freshman guard Shabazz Napier. A player who offers options off the bench, Napier is intended to open the court and give options to Walker rather than dial up numbers on the stat sheet.
Essentially, Napier is the anti-Ronald Nored—intended to facilitate scoring rather than shut down opponents defensively.
“I think Lamb, Napier and their other guards really put people in a tough position,” Stevens said. “[Those two and Walker] along with the activity of their bigs are why they’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Those guards break you down, get inside, cause you to rotate, and then you’re in bad rebounding position.”
And rebounding, a skill both teams have used to reach the title bout, will be important during the national final matchup.
Both have used a combination of length and positioning to out-rebound opponents throughout “March Madness”—guys like senior forward Matt Howard, sophomore center Andrew Smith and freshman forward Khyle Marshall crashing the boards for Butler and sophomore center Alex Oriakhi and freshman forward Tyler Olander doing the same for Connecticut.
The Bulldog-Husky matchup will be a reunion for two summer teammates—Butler junior guard Shelvin Mack and Walker, who played together on the USA U-20 gold medal-winning team and have kept in contact during the season via text messaging.
“We had a lot of fun together on and off the court,” Mack said. “I like to see the success he’s having, and I know he’s been working hard. He’s just continuing to get better these days.”
Mack will certainly be looked to as Butler’s response to anything Walker does. Both junior guards have been the offensive leaders of their teams this season, and whichever one has the better game tomorrow night may very well be responsible for taking a championship trophy back to campus.
Following the trend of simplifying the magnificent, Butler is 40 minutes of game play away from potentially winning a national championship.
“I don’t know if it’s selfish or not, but we want to do it for ourselves,” Stevens said. “We don’t need to disable some theory. It’s about this team and believing that we can accomplish the next task at hand.”
For the second consecutive year, the Butler men’s basketball team will compete in the final game of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.
A display of resilient, focused play earned them a 70-62 victory over No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth (28-12). The win was a perfect representation of the program’s motto—“The game honors toughness.”
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“The way we look at it is this—we want to win,” senior forward Matt Howard said. “We don’t look at it as it’s a mid-major that wants to win. We don’t look at conferences. It’s about players, their system.”
Butler handled VCU’s full-court pressure and early scoring runs with poise, conferences aside.
“We said coming into the game it was going to be a possession game, and it was going to be something where we had to be great with the ball,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought we attacked the [full-court] pressure well.”
No. 8 seed Butler (28-9) had to overcome an early six-point deficit and sharp-shooting from the Rams, who scored 12 of their first 15 points on 3-pointers.
“I was nervous as heck when they started making all those threes early,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought our rotations were OK but not probably good enough, but then our guys adjusted pretty well.
“I thought we defended the way we wanted to.”
The Bulldogs also had to overcome 27 points from the Rams’ senior forward and leading scorer Jamie Skeen. Skeen was 10-for-17 in the game and also grabbed six rebounds.
VCU senior guard Joey Rodriguez was not as proficient from the field, shooting 1-of-8 for three total points.
But Rodriguez still managed to give Butler some problems, customarily dribbling into the lane and dishing out to Skeen or junior forward Bradford Burgess. Rodriguez finished with eight assists and two steals.
The VCU trio was not enough to combat Butler’s top three contributors, though.
Junior guard Shelvin Mack was nearly unstoppable on the hardwood, shooting 8-for-11 to total 24 points.
“Shelvin has a will and determination that’s unlike some other guys,” senior forward Matt Howard said. “Many times, he has carried this basketball team, and that’s still while playing within our offense. That’s what Shelvin is—a great basketball player.”
Howard spent a good portion of the night on the hardwood thanks to diving for loose balls and VCU fouls. When he was on his feet, Howard scored 17 and grabbed eight rebounds.
A key rebound and pair of points came with one minute remaining in the game after senior guard Shawn Vanzant missed a fade-away jumper. Howard freed himself from a defender, snatched the ball and laid it in with his left hand.
The well-timed play kept the Rams at bay by giving the Bulldogs a 63-57 lead and the cushion necessary to win the game.
“There’s a reason why [Howard is still] standing in all these tournaments, the reason why he’s playing and continues to play and play,” Stevens said. “He wins everything in practice, everything all the way throughout the year. It’s because of his motor and his non-stop will to succeed for his team.”
Vanzant was Butler’s third-leading scorer in the game with 11, nine of which came in the second half.
VCU was unable to regain a lead late in the second half for two reasons—they could not out-muscle the Bulldogs on the glass, and they struggled from the free throw line.
Butler out-rebounded VCU 26-16 in the second half and 48-32 overall.
Freshman forward Khyle Marshall was a large part of the Bulldogs’ efforts down low, grabbing nine overall with many coming on the offensive end to extend possessions.
VCU’s accuracy from the “charity stripe” was poor. The Rams were 8-of-13 at the line, and missed many opportunities to build a large lead early or climb back into the mix near the end.
The timing of the misses was more important than the misses themselves.
Senior guard Zach Hahn had incredible timing tonight, scoring eight points and dishing an assist to Howard in less than four minutes of play.
Mack said although he and Hahn haven’t always been able to knock down shots, staying positive was the key.
[We] are doing a great job of giving [Hahn] the ball where he can have success,” Mack added.
Butler will look to continue its teamwork against No. 3 seed Connecticut in Monday night’s national championship. Until then, Mack said Butler will rest and prepare for their opponent.
“We realize there’s still a game to be played, hopefully another game to be won,” Howard said. “That’s what we want to do, and we’re going to prepare to do that.”
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