We teamed up with Burnt Orange Nation for a Q&A preview for Butler/Texas. For a Butler-centered preview, click the link.
Jeff Haley: I think this game has a high probability of being close, as neither team is likely to be able to run away from the other. Both teams are better on defense then they are on offense, and both do an outstanding job on the boards.
Hype is a funny term here. This is a game that is likely to be close, and also likely to be slow-paced and low scoring. A 58-54 game may simultaneously be close, exciting, and tough to watch.
BECB: Texas has three guys that average double-digit scoring. What's Butler's best plan of attack in slowing them down?
JH: The key player for Texas is really Isaiah Taylor. His ability to break down defenders off of the dribble is exceptional, and how the Butler defense contends with this will be very important. Taylor can get to where he wants to get on the floor off the dribble against most defenders, and is likely to control the ball for large portions of possessions -- particularly late in games.
If the Bulldogs can keep Taylor from getting all the way to the rim, or getting to the free throw line, he will likely start playing the mid-range floater lottery. Sometimes that works out for him, but the odds typically favor the defense.
Myles Turner is another offensive weapon for the Longhorns (as well as one of the best rim protectors in the nation). Turner's greatest asset on offense is his ability to shoot; his turnaround jump shot from the low block is essentially unguardable -- when he shoots it the defense just has to hope that he misses. The best approach against Turner is to try to move him off the block (he is very young, and is not as strong as he will be in a few years), and attempt to limit his touches. Teams have done a good job of limiting post entry for Turner by pressuring Texas' guards and making entry passes difficult. Double teaming is almost useless, because by the time the double arrives the shot will already be gone. Turner is also a terrific free throw shooter.
The third primary scorer for Texas is Jonathan Holmes, who after struggling during most of conference play has strung three decent games together. He is basically a rebounding and energy guy with a jump shot. If his threes are falling, the Texas offense becomes hard to defend.
BECB: Texas struggled down the stretch after a good start to the year. What's plagued them the most in conference play?
JH: A lot of issues led to Texas struggles. Issue number one is that the level of competition this season in the Big 12 is fairly high. While the league lacks an overpowering team at the top, there is only one team in the league that you would call bad (a rebuilding Texas Tech). So if you slip up a little in the league, you are going to lose.
For Texas' part, early in the season the Texas defense projected to be one of the very best in the country, in the same class as Virginia and Kentucky. But that hasn't happened. The Texas interior defense is as good as advertised; the Longhorns block the highest percentage of opponent twos nationally, and Texas opponents only have shot 38 percent from inside the arc (this is the lowest percentage in Division I). But the perimeter defense has not been as good. During conference play, Texas opponents have hurt the Longhorns from beyond the arc, and Texas' defense seldom generates turnovers.
The net result of this is a defense that is closer to the middle of the pack in the Big 12 than was expected.
BECB: What is the matchup to pay the closest attention to in this game?
JH: There are two that I am interested in: Kellen Dunham vs. whoever is guarding him (most likely a mix of Jonathan Holmes and Demarcus Holland), and Isaiah Taylor vs. Alex Barlow.
My take is that the key to defeating Butler is to limit Dunham's chances from three. While Roosevelt Jones is a difficult player to handle, his drives to the rim are going to be met by three outstanding shot blockers. To put it into a Big East context, Turner and Prince Ibeh are essentially every bit as disruptive as Chris Obekpa is for St. John's, while Cameron Ridley is not too far behind. Texas will likely have at least one of these guys on the floor for nearly every minute of the game, and will frequently pair Turner and Ibeh together.
So I am far more worried about Jones as a passer than a scorer, and am most worried about what happens when those passes find their way to Dunham. From watching Texas game plans against similar opponents, I suspect that Rick Barnes will assign one defender to stick with Dunham, and that defender will not have help responsibilities. At least that is what I am hoping Texas does.
On the other end of the floor, Butler needs to keep Taylor out of the paint as much as possible. That is easier said than done.
BECB: Is there a glaring weakness that Butler could exploit against the Longhorns?
JH: Texas has a tendency to pack the lane with defenders, so if Butler can get into a drive and kick game and can hit some threes, their offense can be productive. The Texas defense has also struggled at times covering ball screens, and doesn't always close out well on shooters.
BECB: Ultimately, who wins this game and why?
JH: I think this game is going to be very close, and can potentially be low scoring -- a final score where each team ends up in the 50s is not out of the question.
I think the game outcome will likely swing on what Butler does from beyond the three point line. If the Bulldogs hit 10 or 12 threes, Texas could be in trouble. But if Butler ends up going something like 7-20 from long range, then the Bulldogs are going to have a hard time finding points elsewhere on the court. Texas' size inside then becomes the dominant force.
I think that happens. I am picking Texas, but it is going to be close.