For mid-major fans you really couldn't ask for a better match-up of mid-major powers than eight-seeded Butler taking on ninth-seeded Old Dominion. The Bulldogs of course captured the country with their magical run to the national championship a year ago but have been a disruptive force on the national scene for several years now, having won 11 NCAA Tournament games in six appearances. Old Dominion has been slaying power conference teams for years and has been a major player in the CAA for the better part of the last decade.
So perhaps its only appropriate these two giant killers will play for the right to battle with top seeded Pitt in the next round - a game that the Panthers have to be a worried about (especially with how well ODU matches up with their size). But that is another game for another day. In the mean time, there is no reason to think this game won't be an absolutely spectacular way to kick off a full day of March Madness.
Continue after the jump for a full breakdown.
Butler Bulldogs, 8-seed Southeast Region
The odds are heavily stacked against Butler equaling it's incredible run to the national championship game from a year ago - but then again wasn't that the case in 2010? The Bulldogs may not be the same team as last season, especially with the departure of star Gordan Hayward, but this isn't a team to be taken lightly, especially entering the opening round of the tournament on a 9-game winning streak. Let's also not forget that of the Bulldogs five conference losses, four were by single digit margins.
For the second consecutive season the Bulldogs have an offense that ranks in the top 50 in scoring efficiency, but is certainly not on the same level as last year's team. Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack lead the way, each scoring better than 15 points, with Howard shooting nearly 50% from the floor. Playing at a slow pace prevents Butler from typically putting up massive scoring totals, but it does allow them to post one of the lowest turnover rates in the country.
The Bulldogs are at their best scoring in the lane from post-ups and off the ball movement, ranking among the best teams at the Division 1 level in these respective scenarios. The scoring on the block is handled almost exclusively by the duo of Howard and Andrew Smith, the later of which has been a revelation as a sophomore and is capable of producing impressively (just ask Cleveland State who was on the receiving end of a 22 and 10 game in January). Butler also does exceptionally well in iso and pick and roll sets. Shelvin Mack is a handful in both of these scenarios, particularly in isolation settings, while Ronald Nored despite only posting a 20% usage rate in the screen and roll is one of the most efficient players in the country in this play type.
Butler has been good but not great defensively this season, excelling in some areas but performing well below par in others. Thanks to the efforts of Howard and Co. on the glass, opposing teams manage an offensive rebound rate of only 27.4, which is the 11th lowest mark in the country. They're equally as good defending in the transition game, holding opposing teams to 46% shooting and just .946 points per possession. On the flip side, Butler is poor at guarding iso sets and low post scoring opportunities - areas that will be of particular issue facing Old Dominion and could ultimately be the deciding factors in this game.
Old Dominion Monarchs, 9-seed Southeast Region
The Monarchs have been covered quite a bit on this site in the last couple of weeks, but just in case you've forgotten, we'll give you a quick refresher anyway. ODU had an impressive regular season to say the least, dropping just 6 games, 4 of which came against either ranked teams or teams in the top 3 of the CAA. Furthermore, they enter the NCAA Tournament on a role maybe even more impressive than Butlers, having won 13 of 14 games dating back to late January. The lone loss came against a rolling George Mason team the first week of February.
Frank Hassell and Kent Bazemore have been the driving forces on offense, ironically enough with Hassell having been a redshirt freshman on the Old Dominion team that fell to Butler in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. The senior forwards consistency in the second half of the season has been remarkable, putting together a stretch of 7 straight double-doubles to close out the regular season, then proceeding to score 20 or more in all three conference tournament games. Bazemore has been somewhat more up and down, but his hard nosed brand of basketball personifies what Old Dominion is all about.
The Monarchs have had modest success on offense, excelling at interior scoring. ODU is the nation's best offensive rebounding team and ranks in the top 45 in low post scoring efficiency thanks largely to Hassell who averages better than one point per possession here, but fellow senior Keyon Carter has been almost as good here as well, just with a significantly lower usage rate (57% as compared to 17%).
Defense is where Old Dominion makes its mark, ranking in the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Interestingly enough though, the Monarchs are one of the nation's worst perimeter defenses, allowing 37% shooting, yet have the 12th best two-point field goal shooting mark against at 42.5%. Luckily for ODU, Butler isn't the kind of team to start launching away from the outside. Their ability to slow down the tempo of the game has also made them one of the best transition defenses in the country, holding opposing teams to less than 40% shooting which is pretty remarkable when compared to the national average.
This game is going to be won or lost based on the Monarchs ability to control paint, something they've excelled at all season.