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Jeff Eisenberg

Butler drops Siena right out of at-large contention

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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One week before the Bracket Buster matchups were announced earlier this month, Siena's Ryan Rossiter left no doubt which opponent he wanted to face.

"The marquee matchup we'd want to see is Butler," Rossiter told me. "Over the last couple years, they've really solidified themselves into becoming a powerhouse in the NCAA. That's where we're trying to be as a program."

Rossiter's dream matchup quickly became, well, a nightmare as the Saints failed to capitalize on their final chance at a marquee non-conference win. They fell 70-53 to Butler, all but ensuring that the MAAC regular season champs will have to sweat out three victories in their conference tournament to earn a third straight NCAA bid.

If the Bracket Buster weekend was created to help mid-major teams play their way into at-large consideration, then it might be time to tinker with the set-up of event. Besides Siena, Colonial Athletic Association at-large hopefuls Old Dominion and William & Mary also played their way right off the bubble on Friday night with disappointing road losses.

Boasting a 22-5 record, 16 wins in its last 17 games and the No. 32 spot in the RPI, Siena would have made a strong case for an at-large bid by handing Butler a rare loss at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Now the Saints have no argument, not with an 0-4 record against teams in the RPI top 50 after early-season losses to St. John's, Temple, Georgia Tech andNorthern Iowa.

As for Butler, this is a team that's showing signs of living up to its preseason No. 11 ranking after a rocky start against a difficult schedule. Butler suffered disappointing losses to Minnesota, Clemson and Alabama-Birmingham in non-conference play to fall out of the rankings, but the Bulldogs did defeat Xavier and Ohio State and now own the nation's longest winning streak at 17 games.

What was most impressive about Butler on Saturday was the way the Bulldogs dictated tempo against the typically high-flying Saints. Even playing without starting forward Willie Veasley, Butler outscored Siena 42-22 in the second half, holding Saints stars Ronald Moore and Edwin Ubiles to combined 2-for-21 shooting.

The only disconcerting aspect of the game for Butler was that center Matt Howard continues to battle foul trouble whenever the Bulldogs face a good team. Butler actually played better without Howard on Saturday, but in the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs will need his size and low-post scoring.

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