Bulldogs Begin Horizon League Tournament Play

TOURNAMENT WEEK:  For the third straight year, Butler won’t have to leave Hinkle Fieldhouse in its bid for a league tournament championship.  The top-seeded Bulldogs will begin play in the 2010 Speedway Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship at home in the semifinals on Saturday, March 6.  Butler will face either #4 seed Milwaukee or #5 seed Cleveland State at 8 p.m., in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPNU.  Tournament action at Hinkle Fieldhouse begins on Friday, March 5, with second round games matching #3 Green Bay and #7 Detroit at 6 p.m. (ET), followed by the Milwaukee-Cleveland State tilt.  Second-seeded Wright State will face the winner of Friday’s first game at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday.  If Butler advances to the finals, the tournament championship game will be at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Tuesday, March 9, at 9 p.m.  Butler won the Horizon League tournament at home in 2008, before falling to Cleveland State in the title game at Hinkle Fieldhouse last year.                             

Butler is playing in the league tournament semifinals for the 12th time in 14 years.

HOME IMPROVEMENT:  The Bulldogs were unbeaten (13-0) at home during the regular season for the first time since 2002-03.  Butler is 28-2 at home over the past two seasons, and the Bulldogs have won 70 of their last 76 Hinkle Fieldhouse contests.

The Bulldogs are 42-3 in Hinkle Fieldhouse under head coach Brad Stevens. 

NATIONAL LOOK:  Butler moved to No. 11 in the ESPN/USA Today national poll and to No. 12 in the  Associated Press (A. P.) “Top 25,” following a victory over Valparaiso last week.  The Bulldogs were ranked in both polls for the first seven weeks of the season and have been ranked in the ESPN/USA Today poll for 17 straight weeks.  Butler has been ranked in the “Top 25” each year since 2006-07.

20 SOMETHING:  The Bulldogs, owning a 20-win season for the fifth consecutive year and for the 12th time in the past 14 years, have tied the fourth-highest single season win total in school history with 26 victories.  The Bulldogs are the only team in Horizon League history to record five or more consecutive 20-win seasons and they’ve done it twice (1997-2003, 2006-2010)!

LAST TIME OUT:  Playing without leading scorer and rebounder Gordon Hayward, Butler rallied in the second half to pull out a 74-69 victory over host Valparaiso in front of a capacity .  The host Crusaders jumped to a 6-0 advantage in the game and led 20-12 midway through the first half, before the Bulldogs closed the margin to one, 31-30, at halftime.  Butler, fueled by senior Willie Veasley, then unleashed a 12-0 run in the second half to take a 65-52 lead and control of the game.  Veasley finished with a career-high 20 points, while junior Matt Howard, who was battling flu-like symptoms on the day of the game, finished with 17 points. Hayward, sidelined by lower back pain, missed his first Butler game in two seasons.                                   

The Bulldogs have won 20 straight Horizon League regular season games.

BOUNCING BACK:  Senior Willie Veasley returned to Butler’s lineup at Valparaiso after missing the Bulldogs’ previous game against Siena with a sprained left knee, and he showed no signs of rust.  The 6-3 forward led the Bulldogs with a career-high scoring performance, hitting seven of 12 shots including a career-best four from beyond the three-point arc.  He hit all three shots he attempted in the second half, each from three-point range, and finished with 20 points for the first time in his Butler career.  He also grabbed six rebounds in the win.

Willie Veasley has shot 55.8% (72-129) during Butler’s current win streak.   
 
QUICK RECOVERY:  Junior Matt Howard missed Butler’s shoot-around at Valparaiso because of flu-like symptoms, and he was considered doubtful when the Bulldogs arrived at the Athletics-Recreation Center for the game that night.  But he was given the go-ahead to play, and he wound up scoring 17 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 27 minutes against the Crusaders.  The 6-8 forward scored 13 points to spark Butler’s second half rally.

Matt Howard has averaged 16.8 points in Butler’s last six games. 

PERFECT FINISH:  With the win at Valparaiso, Butler became just the fourth team in Horizon League history to finish with an unbeaten league record and the first to post an 18-0 mark!  Loyola was 5-0 in 1979-80, Xavier finished 14-0 in 1994-95 and Green Bay was 16-0 in 1995-96.  Butler’s six-game margin in the final standings was the largest in league history!

Butler is the only unbeaten conference champ in the NCAA Division I in 2009-10.

STREAKING BULLDOGS:  Butler began the 2009-10 season with five players boasting streaks of 30 or more consecutive games started.  Two streaks remain, heading into the Horizon League Tournament.  Junior Matt Howard has started 65 consecutive Butler games, while sophomore Shelvin Mack has started 62.  Sophomore Gordon Hayward’s streak ended at 61 last week, while senior Willie Veasley had his stopped at 60 the week before.  Sophomore Ronald Nored had a streak of 32 consecutive starts snapped in the first game of the season.  Hayward and Veasley both are expected to be in the starting lineup for the Bulldogs in the Horizon League Tournament.

FINISHING TOUCH:  Sophomore Shelvin Mack followed his 23-point performance against Siena with 16 points at Valparaiso.  He hit 14 of 25 (.560) shots in the two games, including six of 12 (.500) from the three-point arc.  Mack had posted just one double-figures scoring performance in Butler’s previous three games, and that was 11 points at Cleveland State.

Shelvin Mack has 10 career 20-point scoring performances.

DOUBLE TIME:  Sophomore Gordon Hayward has posted double-doubles in his last four games for the Bulldogs and he has 14 double-doubles for his young Butler career.  The four consecutive double-doubles are the most by a Butler player since 1973-74, when Daryl Mason recorded four straight.  Mason also had six straight double-doubles in the 73-74 season.

Gordon Hayward leads the Horizon League with 11 double-doubles.

TOP CHOICE:  Sophomore Gordon Hayward, who leads the Bulldogs in scoring (15.8) and rebounding (8.5), became the fourth Butler player in five seasons to be named Horizon League Player of the Year.  He follows teammate Matt Howard (2008-09), Mike Green (2007-08) and Brandon Polk (2005-06) as recipient of the league’s top individual honor.  Hayward is the seventh Butler player all-time to be named Horizon League Player of the Year.
  
LEAGUE FIRST:  Butler’s success during the regular season translated into three Bulldogs being named first team All-Horizon League.  Junior Matt Howard and sophomore Gordon Hayward each earned first team recognition for the second straight year, while sophomore Shelvin Mack captured his initial first team honor  It was the first time one team had three players named to a five-player All-Horizon League first team.

BEST DEFENSE:  Sophomore Ronald Nored was named Horizon League Co-Defensive Player of the Year (with Detroit’s Woody Payne), and senior Willie Veasley joined him on the All-Defensive Team selected by league coaches.  The two have helped Butler to the No. 1 spot in the league in team scoring defense (60.6).

Butler had all five starters recognized on the All-League Team for the first time.   

GRAND EFFORT:  Junior Matt Howard became the 32nd Butler player to score 1,000 career points earlier this season.  His 17 points at Valparaiso boosted his career scoring total to 1,253 points, good for 18th place on Butler’s all-time scoring list.  The 6-8 forward trails Ted Guzek (1954-58) in 17th place by 58 points.

LEADING ROLE:  For the second straight year, Butler’s Brad Stevens was named Horizon League Coach of the Year.  The 33-year-old Stevens became the fifth coach in league history to capture the award in back-to-back years, following Pete Gillen of Xavier (1993-94), Barry Collier of Butler (1999-2000), Bruce Pearl of Milwaukee (2002-03) and Todd Lickliter of Butler (2006-07). 

FAST START:  Butler head coach Brad Stevens has taken over the No. 1 spot on the NCAA Division I list for Best Career Starts By Wins, 3 Seasons.  Stevens picked up his 82nd career win at Valparaiso, moving him ahead of the 81 wins of Mark Fox (Nevada) and Mark Few (Gonzaga).

Brad Stevens already stands sixth on Butler’s all-time list for coaching wins.

BULLDOG BITS: 

•The Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 for the fifth consecutive week.  Butler was ranked first or second in the poll for the first eight weeks of the season.

•Butler is the only school in the Horizon League to have won four consecutive regular season championships, and the Bulldogs have done it twice (2000-03, 2007-10).

•Butler was unbeaten in the months of January and February for the first time in school history.

•Matt Howard is tied for third (with Darin Archbold, 1988-92) on Butler’s all-time list for free throws made with 462.  He’s six free throws shy of second place (Chad Tucker, 1983-88).

•Matt Howard leads the Horizon League in free throws made with 150, while teammate Gordon Hayward is second with 136.  Hayward is fourth in the league in free throw percentage (.840), while Howard is tied for eighth (.806).

•Gordon Hayward has hit 30 of 33 (.909) free throws in Butler’s last eight games.

•Gordon Hayward stands fourth on the Butler’s all-time list for sophomore scoring with 459 points.  He’s 16 points behind teammate Matt Howard (2008-09) in third.

•Gordon Hayward has averaged a team-best 15.1 points during the squad’s current 18-game winning streak.  He scored 20 or more points four times during the streak.

•Gordon Hayward ranks fourth in the Horizon League in scoring (15.8) and third in  rebounding (8.5).  He’s the lone player in the league to rank in the “Top 5” in both scoring and rebounding.

•Shelvin Mack is 11th on Butler’s list for sophomore season scoring with 418 points.  He trails Gerry Williams (1960-61) in 10th place by 12 points. 

•Butler is 23-4 when Shelvin Mack scores at least 14 points in a game, and 15-1 when he leads the team in scoring.

•Butler boast three of the “Top 10” players in field goal pct. in the Horizon League.  Senior Willie Veasley ranks fourth (.512), junior Matt Howard is sixth (.484) and sophomore Gordon Hayward is seventh (.480).

•Junior Zach Hahn, who hit two key three-point field goals at Valparaiso, has taken over the top spot in the Horizon League in three-point field goal shooting (.429).  Hahn is shooting .472 (17-36) from the three-point arc in Hinkle Fieldhouse this season.

•Junior Shawn Vanzant led the Bulldogs with a career-high nine rebounds at Valparaiso.  He also matched his career-highs with five assists and two blocked shots in the win.

•Sophomore Ronald Nored has averaged 4.3 assists/game during Butler’s 18-game winning streak.

•The Bulldogs, the top free throw shooting team in the Horizon League, have shot .756 (229-303) at the line in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

•Butler has won its last 21 games when hitting at least nine three-point field goals.  The Bulldogs, who hit nine three-pointers at Valparaiso, are 38-1 under head coach Brad Stevens when hitting nine or more three-pointers in a game.

•The Bulldogs rank sixth in the NCAA Division I in won-lost percentage (.867).  Butler is tied for seventh in the nation in total wins (26).

(Photo by John Fetcho)