The NCAA Tournament's West Regional Final, which tips off Saturday at 4:30, will end with either 2-seed Kansas State or fifth-seeded Butler stamping a ticket to the Final Four. The Wildcats have reached the Final Four four times, although they haven't made an appearance since 1964. Butler, meanwhile, has never been to the Final Four.
School up on Saturday's match-up and check out our Kansas State blog, Bring On The Cats.
Preview courtesy of Sports Network.
The surprising Butler Bulldogs take on the Kansas State Wildcats in the 2010 NCAA Tournament West Regional final at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City this afternoon.
As a fifth seed, Butler has set a new school record as well as a Horizon League record for the most wins in a season by posting a 63-59 triumph over top-seeded Syracuse two nights ago. The win was the 31st of the year for a Bulldog squad that has gone farther in the NCAA Tournament than any previous competitor from the Horizon League.
Butler, which defeated UTEP (77-59) and Murray State (54-52) in the first and second rounds of the 72nd annual event, respectively, is also enjoying the nation's longest win streak at the moment, numbering 23 since the team last faltered a few days before Christmas at UAB. The Bulldogs have now won at least 26 games in four consecutive campaigns and have set a new program and conference record for the most victories over the span (116).
As for the second-seeded Wildcats, they went from double-digit wins against North Texas and BYU in the first two rounds of the tourney, to having to battle into double-overtime on Thursday night in a thrilling 101-96 final versus Xavier. Kansas State is now in the "Elite Eight" for the first time since 1988 and improved its all-time record in the event to 31-27. The Wildcats, ranked seventh in the most recent AP Poll, are playing in Salt Lake City for the third time, appearing here in 1981 when they topped Illinois, but then bowed to North Carolina and again six years later as the team knocked off Georgia before suffering defeat at the hands of UNLV.
This game marks the first-ever meeting between Butler and Kansas State on the hardwood, and the winner will head to Indianapolis next Saturday to take on either Michigan State or Tennessee in the Final Four.
Ahead by double digits at the break, the Bulldogs appeared to be well on their way to another victory on Thursday night before Syracuse bounced back and made things interesting in the four-point decision. Gordon Hayward stepped up to tally 17 points for the victors, clearing five rebounds as well in 31 minutes of action, while Shelvin Mack accounted for 14 points, six boards and five assists in an effort to disguise the fact that he shot just 5-of-19 from the field and 1-of-10 behind the three-point line. Willie Veasley tacked on 13 points for a squad that picked up only three points from its reserves but turned the ball over just seven times. After 35 games, Hayward remains Butler's top point producer with his 14.9 ppg, and he is also tops on the glass with better than eight rebounds per game, while Mack and Matt Howard pitch in with 14.1 and 11.8 ppg, respectively. As the Bulldogs showed in the round of 16, their goal is to control the pace of games and they pretty much did that against the Orange, which is why the squad has been able to limit opponents to 58.8 ppg to this point in the season.
Guard play was again crucial for the Wildcats on Thursday night as Jacob Pullen punctuated his 28-point effort with a pair of key three-pointers in the second overtime as he helped guide Kansas State to the dramatic win. Pullen finished the night hitting 6-of-12 shots out on the perimeter, the team a collective 8-of-19 beyond the arc. Backcourt mate Denis Clemente contributed 25 points, five rebounds and five assists, followed by Curtis Kelly with 21 points, eight boards, four dishes and a game-high five blocks. The squad got a lift off the bench from Jamar Samuels with his 14 points and five rebounds. The importance of Pullen and Clemente cannot be overstated, given that one of the two has led the team in scoring in each of the last five games and in seven of the last eight. Between them, Pullen and Samuels have connected on a staggering 193 three-pointers, which means the rest of the Wildcats have made good on a collective 55 triples over the course of 36 games. But more than just shooters, Pullen (19.5 ppg) and Clemente (16.5 ppg) have also been responsible for 124 and 153 assists, respectively, so they are the ones who have the most input when it comes to the team's 80.4 ppg scoring average.
Once again, Butler will have to take charge of the tempo and keep the scoring to a minimum in order to advance and play what would essentially be a home game for the Bulldogs in Indianapolis. However, if Pullen and Clemente have anything about setting the tone, it should be coach Frank Martin's club that remains in action next week.