Horizon League Senior Associate Commissioner Bill Benner previews tonight's Butler-Pittsburgh game (7:10 p.m. ET, TBS) in the Round of 32 from Washington, D.C.:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ah, another Big East behemoth. Another No. 1 seed. Another team those cuddly Butler Bulldogs have no chance of beating.
Or so it would seem.
“I highly doubt they fear us at all,” said Butler senior Matt Howard.
Similar sentiments may have been expressed a year ago before the Bulldogs were getting ready to play Big East behemoth Syracuse, the No. 1 seed, in the West Regional.
Remember that: Butler 63, Syracuse 59.
But that was then and this is now and now is tonight at the Verizon Center, where the eighth-seeded Horizon League champion Bulldogs will line up against the Southeast Regional’s No. 1 seed, the Pittsburgh Panthers, ranked third in the country and Big East regular season champs.
A berth in the Sweet Sixteen is on the line.
Odds, of course, are with Pitt. No. 1 seeds are 39-9 against No. 8s.
“Pittsburgh is a No. 1 seed for a reason,” said Butler coach Brad Stevens. “There are a lot of impressive tings about them and our guys are going to have to be on top of things to have a chance.”
Most impressive is Pitt’s bulk. Center Gary McGhee is 6-11, 250. Forward Gilbert Brown is 6-6, 215. Forward Nasir Robinson is 6-5, 220. Guard Brad Wanamaker is 6-4, 210. Guard Ashton Gibbs is 6-2, 190.
Like Old Dominion, which Butler beat in the opening round 60-58 on Howard’s buzzer-beating out0back, the Panthers are dominant on the boards, outrebounding opponents by 11 a game. Defensively, Pitt allows just 60.7 points a game and .395 field goal shooting.
Rebounding and defense. Butler staples, as well.
“They’re a bigger version of us,” said junior guard Shelvin Mack.
“We’re going to have to be a lot better on the glass than we were yesterday,” said Stevens, referring to Butler’s solid rebounding effort the win over Old Dominion.
“Old Dominion gave us a good look at what facing a great rebounding team is like,” said Butler guard Ronald Nored. “Now we need to translate what we did well against OSU for Pittsburgh.”
Butler does have Pitt’s respect.
“Butler is very physical,” said the Panthers’ Wanamaker. “They bring it to you. This will be like playing a Big East team.”
“You look at Butler and you definitely have to respect them a little more,” said McGhee, referring to the Bulldogs’ tournament success.
ODDS AND ENDS: Pitt’s McGhee is a senior from Anderson (Ind.) Highland. His high school teams and Matt Howard’s Connersville (Ind.) Spartans were in the same conference and played every year during their prep careers … Butler did not recruit McGhee because Stevens believed he would end up “at a BCS school.“ … Pitt coach Jamie Dixon coached Shelvin Mack on the USA 19-and-under team two summers ago … Butler and Pittsburgh haven’t met on the basketball floor since 1946. They played 12 times from 1929 through ‘46 and all those games were played in Hinkle (Butler) Fieldhouse. Butler leads the series, 7-5.