March 8, 2010

Bulldogs Return To Horizon League Championship Game

TITLE SHOT:  Top-seeded Butler will be bidding for a league-record sixth tournament trophy and an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament when it hosts #2 Wright State in the title game of the 2010 Speedway Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship on Tuesday, March 9.  The 9 p.m. (ET) contest at Hinkle Fieldhouse will be televised nationally on ESPN.  Butler (27-4) advanced to the title game for the fifth straight year with a 68-59 victory over #4 Milwaukee in the tournament semifinals.  Wright State (20-11) reached the final game for the first time since 2007 with a 69-50 victory over #7 Detroit.  The Bulldogs, who dropped last year’s title game to Cleveland State, 57-54, can tie former league member Xavier for most Horizon League Tournament titles with a win.  Butler’s last league tournament crown came at Hinkle Fieldhouse in 2008, while Wright State won the league title at home with a victory over Butler in 2007.                                

Butler has more Horizon League Tournament championships (5) than any other active league member.

HOME IMPROVEMENT:  The Bulldogs are 14-0 in Hinkle Fieldhouse this season and trying to complete an unbeaten home record for the first time since 2002-03.  Butler is 29-2 at home over the past two seasons, and the Bulldogs have won 71 of their last 77 Hinkle Fieldhouse contests.

The Bulldogs are 43-3 in Hinkle Fieldhouse under head coach Brad Stevens. 

NATIONAL LOOK:  Butler remained at No. 12 in the Associated Press (A.P.) national poll and dropped to No. 12 in the  ESPN/USA Today “Top 25,” following last weekend’s victory over Milwaukee.  The Bulldogs were ranked in both polls for the first seven weeks of the season and have been ranked in the ESPN/USA Today poll for 18 straight weeks.  Butler has been ranked in the “Top 25” each year since 2006-07.

20 SOMETHING:  The Bulldogs, owning a 20-win season for the fifth consecutive year and for the 12th time in the past 14 years, have tied the third-highest single season win total in school history with 27 victories.  The Bulldogs are the only team in Horizon League history to record five or more consecutive 20-win seasons and they’ve done it twice (1997-2003, 2006-2010)!

LAST TIME OUT:  Butler shook off a slow start with a solid second half performance to dispatch Milwaukee in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse.  The fourth-seeded Panthers grabbed an early lead and stretched the margin to as many as 10 points, 25-15, with seven-and-a-half minutes remaining in the first half.  Sophomores Gordon Hayward and Ronald Nored each scored four points to fuel a 13-4 Butler run to end the half, and junior Matt Howard scored five points to spark a 10-2 run to open the second half and give the Bulldogs the lead for good.  All five Butler starters scored in double-figures, led by Howard with a game-high 18 points.  Butler shot 55% in the final period and out-scored Milwaukee, 40-30.                                     

The Bulldogs improved to 14-3 as a #1 seed in Horizon League Tournament play.

TOURNAMENT TESTED:  Junior Matt Howard, a two-time Horizon League All-Tournament pick, scored 13 points in the second half to help Butler pull out the come-from-behind victory over Milwaukee in the league tournament semifinals.  Howard hit all three shots that he attempted from the field and seven of nine from the free throw line in the final 20 minutes.  He finished with a game-high 18 points, hitting five of seven field goal attempts and eight of ten from the charity stripe.  In his last four Horizon League tournament games, the 6-8 Butler forward has averaged 18.0 points.  He scored 24 points in a league tournament game against Wright State two years ago.

Matt Howard has averaged 16.0 points in Butler’s last seven games.   

POINT POSITION:  Sophomore Ronald Nored matched the second-highest point total of his young Butler career with 13 points in the Bulldogs’ victory over Milwaukee.  Nored hit three of four shots in the win and a career-best seven of nine free throws.  He also grabbed a career-high eight rebounds in the victory.  Nored’s top three career scoring performances have come in Butler’s last 10 games.

Ronald Nored has averaged 7.2 points during Butler’s 19-game winning streak. 

PERFECT FINISH:  With the win at Valparaiso in the final regular season game, Butler became just the fourth team in Horizon League history to finish with an unbeaten league record and the first to post an 18-0 mark!  Loyola was 5-0 in 1979-80, Xavier finished 14-0 in 1994-95 and Green Bay was 16-0 in 1995-96.  Butler’s six-game margin in the final standings was the largest in league history!

Butler is the only unbeaten conference champ in the NCAA Division I in 2009-10.

STREAKING BULLDOGS:  Butler began the 2009-10 season with five players boasting streaks of 30 or more consecutive games started.  Two streaks remain, heading into the Horizon League Tournament championship game.  Junior Matt Howard has started 66 consecutive Butler games, while sophomore Shelvin Mack has started 63.  Sophomore Gordon Hayward’s streak ended at 61 last week, while senior Willie Veasley had his stopped at 60 the week before.  Sophomore Ronald Nored had a streak of 32 consecutive starts snapped in the first game of the season.

SCORING TRIO:  Three different Butler players averaged 15.5 points in the Bulldogs’ two games against Wright State this year.  Senior Willie Veasley and sophomores Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack each scored 31 points in the two Butler wins, while junior Matt Howard added 22.  Mack had Butler’s top scoring performance against the Raiders with 21 points at the Nutter Center.

Shelvin Mack has 10 career 20-point scoring performances.

DOUBLE TIME:  Sophomore Gordon Hayward, who returned to Butler’s starting lineup against Milwaukee, has posted double-doubles in his last five games for the Bulldogs, and he has 15 double-doubles for his young Butler career.  The five consecutive double-doubles are the most by a Butler player since 1973-74, when Daryl Mason recorded six straight.

Gordon Hayward leads the Horizon League with 12 double-doubles.

TOP CHOICE:  Sophomore Gordon Hayward, who leads the Bulldogs in scoring (15.6) and rebounding (8.6), became the fourth Butler player in five seasons to be named Horizon League Player of the Year.  He follows teammate Matt Howard (2008-09), Mike Green (2007-08) and Brandon Polk (2005-06) as recipient of the league’s top individual honor.  Hayward is the seventh Butler player all-time to be named Horizon League Player of the Year.
  
LEAGUE FIRST:  Butler’s success during the regular season translated into three Bulldogs being named first team All-Horizon League.  Junior Matt Howard and sophomore Gordon Hayward each earned first team recognition for the second straight year, while sophomore Shelvin Mack captured his initial first team honor  It was the first time one team had three players named to a five-player All-Horizon League first team.

BEST DEFENSE:  Sophomore Ronald Nored was named Horizon League Co-Defensive Player of the Year (with Detroit’s Woody Payne), and senior Willie Veasley joined him on the All-Defensive Team selected by league coaches.  The two have helped Butler to the No. 1 spot in the league in team scoring defense (60.6).

Butler had all five starters recognized on the All-League Team for the first time.   

GRAND EFFORT:  Junior Matt Howard became the 32nd Butler player to score 1,000 career points earlier this season.  His 18 points against Milwaukee boosted his career scoring total to 1,271 points, good for 18th place on Butler’s all-time scoring list.  The 6-8 forward trails Ted Guzek (1954-58) in 17th place by 40 points.

LEADING ROLE:  For the second straight year, Butler’s Brad Stevens was named Horizon League Coach of the Year.  The 33-year-old Stevens became the fifth coach in league history to capture the award in back-to-back years, following Pete Gillen of Xavier (1993-94), Barry Collier of Butler (1999-2000), Bruce Pearl of Milwaukee (2002-03) and Todd Lickliter of Butler (2006-07). 

FAST START:  Butler head coach Brad Stevens holds the No. 1 spot on the NCAA Division I list for Best Career Starts By Wins, 3 Seasons.  Stevens has 83 career wins in his brief career, two better than the previous record held by Mark Fox (Nevada) and Mark Few (Gonzaga).  The Butler coach boasts an .856 winning percentage.

Brad Stevens already stands sixth on Butler’s all-time list for coaching wins.

BULLDOG BITS: 

•The Bulldogs stand second in all-time Horizon League Tournament wins with 27, one behind all-time leader Detroit.

•Butler is the only school in the Horizon League to have won four consecutive regular season championships, and the Bulldogs have done it twice (2000-03, 2007-10).

•Butler was unbeaten in the months of January and February for the first time in school history.

•Matt Howard has moved into second place on Butler’s all-time list for free throws made with 470.  He’s five free throws shy of the school record set by Bobby Plump, 1954-58.

•Matt Howard is shooting .533 (73-137) during Butler’s current 19-game winning streak.

•Matt Howard leads the Horizon League in free throws made with 158, while teammate Gordon Hayward is second with 140.  Hayward is fifth in the league in free throw percentage (.828), while Howard is ninth (.806).

•Gordon Hayward stands fourth on the Butler’s all-time list for sophomore scoring with 469 points.  He’s six points behind teammate Matt Howard (2008-09) in third.

•Gordon Hayward has averaged a team-best 14.8 points during the squad’s current 19-game winning streak.  He’s shot .515 from the field and scored 20 or more points four times during the streak.

•Gordon Hayward ranks fourth in the Horizon League in scoring (15.6) and third in  rebounding (8.6).  He’s the lone player in the league to rank in the “Top 5” in both scoring and rebounding.

•Shelvin Mack has moved into a tie for 10th place on Butler’s list for sophomore season scoring with 430 points.  He’s tied with Gerry Williams (1960-61), seven points shy of Darren Fowlkes (1986-87) in ninth place. 

•Butler is 23-4 when Shelvin Mack scores at least 14 points in a game, and 15-1 when he leads the team in scoring.

•Butler boasts three of the “Top 10” players in field goal pct. in the Horizon League.  Senior Willie Veasley ranks fourth (.509), junior Matt Howard is sixth (.491) and sophomore Gordon Hayward is seventh (.480).

•Junior Willie Veasley is shooting .541 (60-111) at home this season.

•Sophomore Ronald Nored has averaged 4.2 assists/game during Butler’s 19-game winning streak.

•Junior Zach Hahn, who scored a career-high 17 points at Wright State last year, currently ranks fourth in the Horizon League in three-point field goal shooting (.421).  Hahn is shooting .450 (18-40) from the three-point arc in Hinkle Fieldhouse this season.

•The Bulldogs, who lead the Horizon League in team scoring defense (60.5), have held six of their last seven foes below 60 points.

•Butler has won its last 21 games when hitting at least nine three-point field goals.  The Bulldogs, who hit just four three-pointers against Wright State in February, are 38-1 under head coach Brad Stevens when hitting nine or more three-pointers in a game.

•The Bulldogs are tie for seventh in the NCAA Division I in won-lost percentage (.871).  Butler is tied for ninth in the nation in total wins (27).

(Photos by John Fetcho)