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NCAA Tournament Preview Southeast Region - First Round (9) Old Dominion vs. (8) Butler

Thursday, March 17 - 12:40 PM ET

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A little less than a year ago the Butler Bulldogs were in the midst of a Tournament run for the ages. Fifth-seeded Butler grabbed the attention of Hoops Nation with tremendously gutty performances and the ability to rise to the challenge of playing and beating higher seeds as the Tournament continued. The Bulldogs fell two points short winning the whole shebang. 2011 has been a little different road to the Tournament for the Horizon League champions, but here they are with yet another chance to capture the essence of March. Ironically, the Bulldogs face a first round opponent, Old Dominion, who is primed and ready to chart its own path to bracket stardom.

The 8/9 matchup is always home to great basketball and Thursday afternoon in the Bayou should be no different. Tournament success has not been something unfamiliar to each of these squads. As mentioned above, Butler’s 2010 road to the Final Four brought the Bulldogs five wins in the Tournament. The Bulldogs defeated teams of all shapes and sizes during their magical run last season and with many of the same players back for another go in 2011, experience will be a key benefit to head coach Brad Stevens’ crew. Leading the charge for the Bulldogs is the duo of Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. The two upperclassmen were key components to Butler’s success this season, and when they play well, the Bulldogs can again be a dangerous squad in Tournament play. We know that March Madness is a place where individual players can elevate a team to play beyond its normal capability; Butler has two of these guys on its roster. Howard’s 16 point-7 rebound consistencies and Mack’s ability to break down a defense off the dribble and hit the open shot will give the solid Old Dominion defense a true test.

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Don’t sleep on the Old Dominion Monarchs. The champions of the Colonial Athletic Association, fresh off a first-round victory over Notre Dame last season, come into the Tournament playing tremendous basketball. The Monarchs have won their last nine games and have turned up the defensive pressure to new heights. One thing to remember: Old Dominion is not your typical three-point shooting potential Cinderella. The Monarchs are tough on the inside and will defend from buzzer-to-buzzer. Old Dominion allowed just 58 points per game and rebound the ball terrifically. The Monarchs are simply one of the premier defensive ballclubs in the country. Senior Frank Hassell leads the charge averaging nearly a double-double, 15 points and 9 rebounds, per game for head coach Blaine Taylor’s squad.

The question becomes, just what style of play will create an opening round victory? Will Butler’s highly-efficient, battle-tested profile be enough to overcome the upset hopes of Old Dominion? Or will the Monarchs defense prowess swallow up the Bulldogs on the inside and force Butler to consistently make tough jump shots? In the opening session of the NCAA Tournament, we shall find out.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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