Butler (24-8, 12-6 Big East) plays one last game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, a place it has gotten well-acquainted with since joining the Big East. There, they will face off against an opponent they are not familiar with, the upset-minded Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (31-4, 17-1 C-USA).
Winner advances to the Sweet 16, where they face either North Carolina or Arkansas.
How to watch, listen, and stream
Game Time: Saturday, March 18, 2017, at 7:10 p.m. ET
TV: TBS (Carter Blackburn, Mike Gminski, Debbie Antonelli, Lisa Byington)
Live Stream: March Madness Live
Butler is a four-point favorite, per Oddsshark.com.
This is the first ever meeting between the two schools.
How They Got Here
Middle Tennessee State: The Blue Raiders picked up from where they left off last season. They enjoyed an excellent regular season and steamrolled their opponents in an almost-perfect campaign in conference play. Their momentum carried into the Conference USA tournament, in which they dominated. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, MTSU upset fifth-seeded Minnesota, 81-72, to advance to the second round once again.
Butler: The Bulldogs put an end to an 0-2 start in March--that included a regular season loss to Seton Hall and an early Big East Tournament exit by Xavier--by beating No. 13-seed Big South champion Winthrop in the opening round of the tournament, 76-64. Butler wants its postseason stay to last longer than it did in New York, and so far so good, but an upset-minded team looking to spoil the fun.
What to Watch For
MTSU has been in this position before.
Last season, it upset second-seeded Michigan State in the opening round. The Blue Raiders were locked in from the start, putting up 90 points on the Spartans in an impressive 33-of-59 (55.9 percent) shooting performance. They were even better from deep, knocking down 11-of-19 (57.9 percent). However, it seemed more content with just getting that opening round upset that MTSU didn't show any semblance to its stellar play in the following game versus Syracuse. The Blue Raiders shot under 30 percent on the floor and got bulldozed in a 25-point blowout loss.
This time around, the Blue Raiders are looking to make some more noise and reach the program's first ever Sweet 16. MTSU looked good against Minnesota, knocking down 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) three-point attempts. It took good care of the ball, and defensively, shut the Golden Gophers down from beyond the arc. Will the Blue Raiders come out flat again following the huge upset, or will they follow through this time around?
Middle Tennessee Trio
For a lot of these mid-major, smaller conference champions, veteran leadership in junior and senior-laden teams are vital. MTSU is no different. The Blue Raiders have attained much success behind their two senior forwards, JaCorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw, as well as junior guard Giddy Potts. The trio does most of the damage on offense, and they're also tough defensively.
Williams is relishing in his graduate transfer year after spending three seasons as an afterthought in Arkansas. This season, he's averaging 17.2 points per game and shooting 53.3 percent on the floor, en route to getting Conference USA Player of the Year honors. He is an athletic 6-foot-8 power forward, who can rebound with the best of them and can really flush it through on dunks. Upshaw is another 6-8 forward that can score and rebound, averaging 14.6 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. He has a bit more range and can occasionally knock down an open three if given the chance, but he will mainly look to beat up opponents inside.
As they go to work inside, Potts is making the magic happen at the perimeter. He's the Blue Raiders' top three-point shooting threat, converting on 39.0 percent of attempts this season. He can also drive it inside and play hard perimeter defense. All in all, he's a complete, two-way player.
Butler has always been about spreading the ball around and using a team-wide effort to get the job done on both ends of the court. However, the Bulldogs do have the luxury of having Kelan Martin as the team's distinct leading scorer, averaging 15.9 points per game in a season that saw him transition from a starter to an effective weapon off the bench.
However, it wasn't him who had the hot hand in the opening round game against Winthrop, nor was it the team's next leading scorer, Andrew Chrabascz. Instead, it was Avery Woodson that led the way, with a 6-of-10 performance from beyond the arc en route to an 18 point game. While Butler won pretty comfortably, it remains unseen if Woodson will be able to maintain that solid shooting. He can be a bit streaky, but the key will be whoever else can get involved. While Martin and Chrabascz were able to reach double figures in scoring in the previous game, they felt a bit quiet in the game, as Woodson emerged to the forefront.
Will Martin get himself going again? If it's not Woodson that's having a big game, can someone else or a couple of players step in and contribute?