I’m not going to lie… I’m going against my gut instinct and how I filled out my bracket on Tuesday afternoon.
I never really thought that Butler would have too much trouble from Bucknell. Sure, the Bison were talented and Muscala will probably play some post-collegiate basketball somewhere in the world, but I never truly thought Bucknell had what it would take to beat a pretty good Butler team. Really, I figured Butler would only lose if Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham had poor shooting performances. Despite that happening, the Bulldogs were of course victorious by 12 points.
Tonight against #3 seeded Marquette (24-8), a big and physical team that gave Butler everything it could handle and more in a thrilling 72-71 victory, is going to be a challenge on a completely different level. Marquette is seeking revenge, redemption, and a chance to prove that Rotnei Clarke’s shot against the Golden Eagles back in November was everything of a fluke that they think it to be in their head. Not to mention, thanks to a thrilling 59-58 victory over Davidson in the second round on Thursday that only took place because Vander Blue heroically made a thrilling layup with a second left, Marquette knows they need to show urgency from the opening tip or they really will be going home for sure.
And though I originally picked Marquette to win the game on my field of 64 on paper, my gut tells me Butler will win tonight.
Maybe because I’ve been around Butler so much these past five days, but I really think Head Coach Brad Stevens will conduct a game-plan that is going to make Marquette shoot the ball from the outside. As Marquette Head Coach Buzz Williams has noted multiple times, Marquette struggles heavily shooting from the outside. And as big Marquette’s Chris Otule and Davante Gardner are, I think Butler will play a physical-enough style of play to make them struggle down low. If Marquette can only score 59 points against Davidson, I can’t see them being able to score more than 60 against a Butler defense.
Not to mention, there is no way that Butler shoots 3-17 from behind the arc as they did on Thursday afternoon.
So it’s going to be close, and I wouldn’t advise putting money on the game based alone on my prediction. But I’m going to say the Bulldogs are Sweet Sixteen bound, thanks to a big game from Clarke (who has to prove his Maui shot and performance weren’t a fluke) and perhaps the best game of Andrew Smith’s impressive career.
Bulldogs 63, Marquette 58.