Even after last season’s near miss, the betting markets haven’t given Butler
its proper due.
What else do the Bulldogs need to do to earn respect?
Butler, a mid-major power from the Horizon League, has won at least 20 games for six consecutive seasons. The Bulldogs nearly upset Duke in last year’s NCAA Tournament championship game, losing 61-59 as seven-point ‘dogs.
The 26-9 Bulldogs were underdogs in all three of their NCAA Tournament games this season, but have emerged to face Florida in the Southeast Regional final in New Orleans Saturday at 1:30 p.m. PT on CBS.
Florida, the second-seed in the regional, opened 3 ½-point favorites with an ‘over/under’ of 131, according to numbers posted Thursday night at Pinnaclesports.com.
Never mind the Bulldogs being seeded eighth in the regional. They probably shouldn’t have been an underdog to No. 4 Wisconsin. That was proven this past Thursday when Butler beat the Badgers, 61-54, as 4 ½-point ‘dogs. The combined 115 points dipped ‘under’ the 123-point total.
Butler reached that game by getting past Old Dominion, 60-58, as one-point ‘dogs in the first round. The combined 118 points went ‘under’ the 123 ½-point total.
The Bulldogs took out Pittsburgh, the top seed in the Southeast Regional, 71-70 as eight-point underdogs in the second round. The combined 141 points went ‘over’ the 125-point total.
Pittsburgh and Old Dominion were two of the best rebounding teams in the country, while Wisconsin ranked No. 1 in assist-to-turnover ratio.
These kind of big victories are nothing new for Butler, which knocked off Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament last year.
Few anticipated the Bulldogs being this close to another Final Four appearance after losing Gordon Hayward to the NBA’s Utah Jazz. But the Bulldogs still have star power with forward Matt Howard and guard Shelvin Mack.
Mack is averaging 19.3 points per game in the tournament while Howard is averaging 17 points a game.
Butler has won 12 games in a row going 8-3-1 ATS. Florida, however, also is a hot team. The Gators have won every game against teams not named Kentucky since January.
This includes NCAA Tournament victories against UC Santa Barbara, 79-51, as 12 ½-point favorites, 73-65 versus UCLA as 5 ½-point ‘chalk’ and getting past BYU and Jimmer Fredette, 83-74, in overtime this past Thursday as 2 ½-point favorites.
It was the Cougars who eliminated Florida in last year’s NCAA Tournament, 99-92, in double overtime during the first round.
Florida, 29-7, last reached a regional final in 2007 when it won the Big Dance for the second consecutive year.
The Gators have tremendous depth inside with Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus, Patric Young and Erick Murphy. They also have an excellent backcourt in Kenny Boynton, who had 17 points and five assists versus BYU, and playmaker Ervin Walker.
Florida coach Billy Donovan has a veteran team with all five starters back from last year. The Gators have posted 13 consecutive seasons of at least 20 victories.
The Gators are 8-1-1 ATS in their last 10 games. One of their few weaknesses is free throw shooting. They rated 260th in the land during the regular season making only 66.4 percent.
However, during their first two NCAA Tournament games, the Gators sank 26 of 34 from the charity stripe for 76 percent. The Gators reverted back to their poor free throw shooting against BYU, though, making just 10-of-22 (45.5 percent) from the foul line. Butler is a 73.1 percent free throw shooting team.
The ‘under’ has cashed in seven of Butler’s last nine games. Florida has gone ‘over’ in 12 of its last 14 games, including all three in the NCAA Tournament.