Friday, April 1, 2011

Buonaguro Had Close Looks At Butler

Four men's teams remain alive in the NCAA tournament, and there's only one MAAC team that played against any of the Final Four participants this year.

That would be Siena, which not only played Butler this season but has gone up against the Bulldogs twice in a 10-month time frame.

The Saints drew Butler as a 2009-10 BracketBusters' opponent, losing, 70-53, on Feb. 20, 2010, at Hinkle Field House. The teams met again in Albany at the Times Union Center with Butler earning a 70-57 victory on Nov. 23, 2010, in the return of the previous season's BracketBusters' game.

Both times Siena played relatively well against Butler. In the first meeting the game was tied with 16 minutes left. This season's meeting saw Siena within 46-43 with 14;25 remaining.

Your blogging hoopscribe was a first-hand observer at this year's meeting, and came away more impressed with Butler's team-oriented style of play than with its talent.

All the things the national pundits have been saying about Butler ... that it makes very few mistakes and its patient offense takes advantage of defensive miscues ... it was all on display a little more than four months ago when Butler played Siena.

Current Saint coach Mitch Buonaguro was on the Saints' sideline for both games.

"I'm very familiar with them, not only from the past two years at Siena, but when I was an assistant coach (at Cleveland State) in the Horizen League and had to play them every year," said Buonaguro.

"People talk about their offense, but they're a great team defensively, too. They put a high priority on the defensive end, not only in terms of good positioning but they play very physically. It was a real adjustment for our guys ... they drew five offensive charges on us. They do all the little things defensively.

"When I look at teams, I kind of catagorize them. Butler is definitely a "rhythm" team. They have great rhythm on offense, good bood movement. They're never in a rush and they rareely turn it over. They play with tremendous execution, get the ball to their top players for shots ... they're a team that can hurt you out of every time out. That's the mark of a team that executes its plays.

"I think what they've done the past two years (Butler is one of just two teams to make it to back-to-back Final Fours in 40 years, the other the Larry Johnson-led UNLV teams), but after seeing them this season I did expect them to win some games (in the NCAA's) because of the way they play and their confidence level.

"Nothing they've done surprises me. I didn't honestly think they'd be a Final Four team this season, but they win close games. They're very good in late-game situations. A big part of it is that they have players in their program for three or four years. By the time those guys are juniors and seniors they're as good as younger players from larger programs who don't have that level of experience. And, they've got two guys in Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack who are as good as it gets.

"One of the things you have to do to beat them is to get them out of their rhythm once in a while. You have to throw a trap defense at them ... do different things. I think we hurt them a little, getting back in the game with them this year, by going to a zone defense and changing defenses a lot on them. We were actually still in the game with five minutes left before they took over at the end.

"When we played them at Butler last year I thought that team had the potential to go to the Final Four. This year is a little more surprising, but after seeing the way they've played in the tournament ... I'm not surprised any more."

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