"Before the tournament even started, I think people were picking Middle to come out of this pod, or whatever you want to call it, and I get that", Holtmann said Friday. That all changed in 2010 when the team made a Cinderella run to the National Championship game.
Quite simply, Butler is the better team, and played like it on Saturday.
Middle Tennessee took down another Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament, though the latest victory didn't really feel like an upset. But the Blue Raiders have established themselves as a unsafe mid-major team after beating Michigan State and Minnesota in the first round in back-to-back years in the tournament. This game will take part in the South Region and air on TBS from the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
He played an instrumental role in helping Middle Tennessee win a school-record 31 games this season and get to two NCAA tourneys in his career.
Coach Mike Brey said the difference was Notre Dame falling behind 10-0 and eventually getting worn down from attempting to dig out of such a hole. I don't see a difference. And the argument can be made that Middle Tennessee was underseeded, stronger than the typical 12, and Minnesota was overseeded. It's a little jarring for a team that prided itself on defense throughout the season.
"It is pretty unique in what they do and how they play it", said the Butler coach. "And that's the thing we have". It paid off again in the first round, as they committed just eight turnovers while assisting on 19 of 28 baskets in an 81-72 win over fifth-seeded Minnesota. You are judged by how you play in this tournament and that's the reality of it. "They do it because they defend it so well. We just ran out of gas".
Middle Tennessee State would not get any closer than five the rest of the way after Chrabascz's three-pointer as Butler went 10 of 12 from the free throw line down the stretch.
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Making matters worse for an already thin Gophers team was the absence of top 3-point shooter Akeem Springs, who injured his ACL during the Big Ten tournament.
Giddy Potts is a long-range sharpshooter that scores 15.8 points a game, while shooting.390 from behind the arc. Antwain Johnson stepped up in a big way, especially in the second half, scoring 19 points, and JaCorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw combined for 32 more, but the Blue Raiders needed more out of their point guard.
As such, Butler will need their star in Kelan Martin to run the show. "None of it really felt a whole lot different..." Andrew Chrabascz picked up three fouls, but he had a fine game with 15 points. Now the Bulldogs are brutes from the Big East, a high No. 4 seed.
In some ways, they have some similarity to Chrabascz, who despite being undersized, can create mismatches with the way he plays.
As guard Ed Simpson was saying, standing by his locker, "Last year we were going bug wild". They looked in the mirror at what happened a year ago and they were determined to not let that happen again.
In order to do that, they have to just focus on what they can control in front of them. Senior Reggie Upshaw, playing his final college game, paused briefly before heading down the tunnel, appearing to wipe tears from his face.
MC: I don't mean to be flippant, but we're all being evaluated every day. "We're definitely thinking about Memphis".