For the sixth time this decade the Butler Bulldogs are moving on to the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament. The #4 seed Bulldogs handled #13 Winthrop with relative ease, defeating the Eagles 76-64. Avery Woodson led Butler with 18 points, all behind the 3-point arc. Butler will play the winner of Minnesota vs Middle Tennessee State with a Sweet 16 birth on the line.
Player of the Game: Avery Woodson
Any favorite in the NCAA tournament will tell you how important it is to get out to a fast start and prevent the underdog from gaining confidence. Avery Woodson made sure Butler did just that. Woodson buried 3 3-pointers before the first media timeout to help Butler jump out to an early lead. He finished the game with a team high 18 points on 6 3-pointers. There was a lot of talk coming in about Winthrop's ability to put up points from distance, but it was Butler that won the battle from the 3-point line.
Containing Keon Johnson
Keon Johnson came in averaging 22.5 points a game, and was a huge concern for Coach Holtmann and the Butler Bulldogs. Kamar Baldwin pretty much shut him down. Baldwin is just as quick as the 5'7" Johnson but with has a significant length advantage. Johnson did score 17 points, but he only shot 7-19 from the floor. Watching Baldwin trail Johnson around the floor for 30 seconds a possession reminded me of the defense Ronald Nored and Shawn Vanzant played in Butler's Final Four runs earlier this decade. The fans may have voted for Woodson for player of the game, but in my mind Kamar Baldwin was Butler's most valuable player in this one.
Strength off the Bench
The argument could be made that Butler's best player in this one was backup point guard Tyler Lewis. Lewis was a wizard running the offense, picking up 8 assists to go with his 9 points. He only had a single turnover. They also got a solid performance from Kelan Martin, who continues to thrive in a reserve role. He scored 10 points and pulled down 8 rebounds. Both Martin and Lewis were a game high +13. Butler's bench outscored Winthrop's 28-9.
One and Done
Butler was expected to have an advantage on the defensive glass, and that's exactly how it played out. Winthrop didn't have a single 2nd chance point all afternoon. The Bulldogs gave up only 3 offensive rebounds, and none of those turned into Winthrop points. Neither Minnesota nor Middle Tennessee State are great offensive rebounding teams, so hopefully this is a trend Butler can carry on through this weekend.
There weren't a lot of negative takeaways from this one, but turnovers were certainly one of them. The Bulldogs committed 12 turnovers, and several of those led to easy points the other way. The Eagles had 13 points off turnovers and 21 fastbreak points. Turnovers were a huge factor in the Winthrop run that trimmed the Butler lead to 7 late in the 2nd half. Taking care of the ball has been a strength all year long for the Bulldogs, and that needs to continue to be the case if they want to play for another week.
Can Butler Get Back to the Sweet 16?
Butler has now won 4 tournament games since their famous Final Four run 6 years ago, but they have yet to get back to the Sweet 16. Holtmann insists that doesn't create any additional pressure, the pressure is always that high, but much of the Butler fanbase is starting to get anxious. This is a big hurdle to break through in their mind. The Bulldogs will likely be a slight favorite on Saturday regardless of the opponent, and Butler has never lost an NCAA tournament game to a lower seed. If that trend continues, the Bulldogs will punch a ticket to Memphis.