The Blue Raiders and the Bulldogs tip off at 6:10 PM CT on TBS
Blue Raider fans, enjoy it, and revel in the success and history that is being made by head coach Kermit Davis’ team. This is perhaps the golden era of Middle Tennessee basketball. This squad has etched their name in the school record books, punching their ticket to the second round of the Big Dance for second consecutive season.
I said it not too long ago, that MT would have their hands full with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Indeed, the Gophers presented a stiff test, but frankly, MT played their B-game Thursday afternoon in Milwaukee, and still won 81-72.
Next up on the docket is the Butler Bulldogs. Butler is what MT yearns to be - a team that is dancing year in and year out. Kermit Davis has gone on record recently saying programs like Butler’s are what he is striving to turn MT into. Well, Saturday night, the Blue Raiders will get their chance to take a step closer to that feat.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS:
We did this the last go-around for MT’s opening round game, so let’s crunch some numbers again, shall we?
Offensively, Middle Tennessee currently averages 75.2 points per game. This puts them 122nd in the entire nation, which consists of over 300 teams. Butler raises the bar a tad as points per game are concerned. The Bulldogs average 76.3 points per game, which puts them at 105th in the land. With this statistical category, we are splitting hairs. Basically Butler averages one more point per game. One point could be a difference maker, but both these teams are neck and neck as far as scoring is concerned.
On the glass, MT collects an average of 35.6 boards per game. This has them tied for 188th in the NCAA. This statistic does not necessarily scream greatness but it is worth mentioning that MT’s rebounding numbers are superior to Butler’s. Butler averages 32.3 boards per outing. This has them in the bottom cellar of the NCAA at 323rd nationally. But, you can see how a difference of just three rebounds per game reflects on the rankings.
When it comes to dishing the rock, the Blue Raiders possess the edge. They are 62nd in the nation with 15.4 dimes per game. The Butler Bulldogs are basically two assists per game behind MT, averaging 13.3 assists per games. Teams that share the ball are generally more fluid and better on offense. If you know MT, you know that they have a stingy defense that gives you multiple looks and makes it hard to consistently score on them and find a rhythm. They are 23rd in the country, giving up just 63.6 points a game. Let’s not sleep on Butler’s defense, though. They are no slouches, either, giving up 68.3 points per game.
Both of these teams have their strong suits, but also some deficiencies and room for improvement. Games can hinge on free throws. For their part, Butler has the edge, shooting 74 percent from the charity stripe, while MT shoots about 69 percent.
GETTING TO KNOW BUTLER:
If you saw Butler play in the first round of the tournament Thursday versus Winthrop, you noticed that the Bulldogs definitely pass the eye test. They are currently 24-8 as representatives of the Big East, a conference that is pretty stacked from top to bottom. The Big East is a conference that is deep and a conference that cannibalizes itself. They had plenty of teams in the big dance this year. Villanova, Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall, Marquette, Providence, and Xavier all put on their dancing shoes for March Madness.
The Villanova Wildcats are the number one overall seed in the entire NCAA tournament. You could dub them the kings of the Big East. Butler, though, defeated Nova not once, but twice. The first meeting they beat Nova 66-58, then, the second time, they won 74-66 - eight point spreads each time out.
Butler is big and athletic, but can defeat you in a myriad of ways. Their king of the roost is junior forward, number 30, Kelan Martin. Martin’s size and stature is similar to that of MT’s JaCorey Williams. Martin is 6’7 and is listed at 225 pounds, and averages about 16 points and 6 rebounds per game.
Butler has another post player Andrew Chrabascz who could cause problems for the Blue Raiders. Chrabascz could pass as a clone of Martin when you take a gander at size and weight. He is listed at 6’7 and 230 pounds. He also averages double figures in points with 11 a game, but also contributes for about five rebounds each game.
Freshman guard Kamar Baldwin is the third and last player that produces an average of double digit points per game for the Bulldogs. He averages right at 10 points a game while chipping in a couple of assist a games. Baldwin is not a goliath at 6’0 and 170 pounds. He has quite the ticker though, corralling four rebounds a game. Baldwin is a handful all over the court, and even averages just south of 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
On the front end, I mentioned two prolific forwards with Martin and Chrabascz. We covered the guard dynamo that is Kamar Baldwin. Let’s dovetail Baldwin with fellow guard Avery Woodson. Avery Woodson checks in at 6’2 and 190 pounds, and has a dead eye from three-point land. Woodson hits about 43 percent of hit shots from downtown. Woodson scores nine per game and can rebound great for a guard. He sticks his nose in their and averages three rebounds per game.
Both Baldwin and Woodson can do damage at the charity stripe. Woodson hits about 80 percent while Baldwin knocks down around 79 percent.
Shifting gears back to another post player, junior Tyler Wideman fits the billing of his last name. He is big, tall, and stout. Wideman is 6’8 and 240, and can bang down low with the best of them. Wideman is second on the team in rebounds with five a game, and is good at generating second chance points. Wideman has a handful of games with double digit points.
Championship caliber clubs need good upperclassmen that give their all. Kethan Savage fits that mold for Butler. Savage Is another cerebral guard for the Bulldogs. He is not a three point specialist, shooting only 28 percent on the year, but he is a knock down mid range shooter. MT will have to get a hand up and get in his air space, especially if they’re running the two-three zone.
Middle Tennessee forward JaCorey Williams has been one of the main guys shouldering the load for Kermit Davis all year long. It appeared Thursday he was a little amped up and chomping at the bit to put on a show, which may have contributed to his oddly of start. But, to his credit, he bounced back, scoring 13 points and gathering six rebounds. Needless to say though, MT needs Williams to have a great game versus Butler from start to finish if they hope to advance.
Butler has some big boys down low, so it will be an interesting chess match down low between the bigs of Butler and the bigs for MTSU. Williams, Upshaw, and Brandon Walters need to be a force and do the dirty work down low. Another variable in this game could be foul trouble.
Against Minnesota, MT guard Giddy Potts got a couple of quick, cheap fouls and had to ride the pine for a while. Simply put, the Blue Raiders need all their big guns on the court in this one. Foul trouble could spell disaster.
Also, in tight games it is very detrimental to turn the ball over. PG Tyrik Dixon for MT and Baldwin/Woodson for Butler need to be on their “p’s and q’s” with the ball, preventing turnovers and distributing assists.
This should be a game where every single point matters. Foul shots could ultimately decide the outcome. To come out on top, the Blue Raiders need to bring their A-game to the hardwood Saturday night. Butler has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the year but they have also been vulnerable, dropping a couple of games to inferior competition. They fell to St. Johns and Indiana State, two bad losses.
This game should be a dog fight, but I think the fire power of MT’s JaCorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw, and Giddy Potts will put them over the top.