The Butler men’s basketball team will face a similar Midwestern foe in New Orleans tomorrow evening.
The No. 4 seed Wisconsin Badgers (25-8) will be the No. 8 seed Bulldogs’ (25-9) Sweet 16 opponent, playing for the right to face the winner of the No. 2 seed Florida Gators and No. 3 seed Brigham Young Cougars.
Both teams are led by senior forwards and junior guards.
Butler’s Matt Howard is averaging 16.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and is responsible for both of Butler’s NCAA tournament wins this season, both with less than one second remaining in the game.
Howard grabbed an offensive rebound and made a layup as time expired in the second-round matchup with No. 9 seed Old Dominion, and he made the first of two free throws to take a lead against No. 1 seed Pittsburgh with 0.8 seconds remaining in the third round.
Wisconsin’s senior forward is 6-foot-10-inch Jon Leuer, who is averaging 18.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. This season he has 20 or more points in 14 games, during which time the Badgers have gone 13-1.
Leuer is joined by junior guard Jordan Taylor, who has just as many games of 20 or more points. Taylor is averaging 18.0 points and 4.8 assists per game this season and leads the NCAA with a 4.18 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“Taylor’s presence on this particular team makes them a national title contender,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “His ability to get in the paint, his ability to draw two guys, his 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio—if you don’t respect him off a ball screen, you’re dead.”
Stevens also compared Taylor to the contacts he used to wear, the ones that forced such an inflammation in his right eye that he had to leave the bench during Butler’s final regular season game.
Leuer and Taylor made Wisconsin history this year when they became the first ever Badger duo to be named First-Team All-Big Ten and be in the Top 20 finalists for the John Wooden Award.
Butler’s response to Taylor will have to be junior Shelvin Mack, a 6-foot-3-inch guard averaging 15.6 points and 3.6 assists per game.
In Butler’s most recent game against Pittsburgh, Mack went 10-of-16 from the field including 7-of-12 shooting from behind the arc. His 30 points kept the Bulldogs close in a contest that saw the Panthers shoot 56.5 percent from the field.
Butler and Wisconsin compare more than they contrast.
Both are well-coached, both have strong player leadership on the court, and both prefer a patient half-court offense to a fast break one.
The game could be decided by defense, with which the Bulldogs have had to become more traditional this season, according to Stevens.
“Both teams try to defend as well as they can in the half court,” he said, “And they try to make people take contested shots.
“But Wisconsin is really good at rotating and covering for one another.”
Or the game might very well be determined by who has the final possession, as Butler is well-accustomed to.
Stevens said the largest similarity between Butler and Wisconsin is the ability to maximize possessions, giving the Badgers the edge in that category.
“Hopefully for 40 minutes, we can be as good as Wisconsin is at being efficient,” he added.