Butler, West Virginia never short on motivation
BUFFALO, N.Y. – Whenever anyone takes a shot at Da’Sean Butler’s team, the West Virginia forward often makes a big shot in his next game.
Butler has earned his reputation as one of the nation’s top clutch performers by using every perceived slight against him as a motivational tool. That strategy has helped the 6-foot-7 senior make six game-winning baskets this season, including two in the Big East tournament last week.
“Everything possible will be used,” Butler said. “Somebody once said, ‘Good luck,’ and I thought they were being sarcastic, so I used that as motivation during the game. It doesn’t matter what it is, honestly. I just go out there and try to play with a chip on my shoulder as much as possible because that’s when I play my best basketball.”
Just when it seemed as though the most outstanding player of the Big East tournament couldn’t get any hotter, the NCAA selection committee gave him even more incentive.
West Virginia entered Sunday fourth in the RPI after winning the Big East tournament, yet the Mountaineers didn’t earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. As the No. 2 seed in the East Region, West Virginia (27-6) opens the tournament Friday against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Morgan State (27-9).
The selection committee’s decision may be bad news for every other team in the East Region.
“I was looking for some type of motivation in a way,” Butler said. “Granted, I wanted a one seed. If we got that, I would have found someone who was going to say, ‘We’re going to get upset,’ so I could use that as motivation. But the two seed is the best thing that could have happened.”
Butler’s teammates don’t necessarily agree.
West Virginia entered Selection Sunday with a six-game winning streak that included four victories over teams seeded sixth or higher in the NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers felt they should have been competing with Duke for the final No. 1 seed.
“At first, we were kind of disappointed a little bit, seeing that we have done everything that we’re supposed to do to get that No. 1 seed,” senior forward Wellington Smith said. “Obviously, it didn’t happen.”
If the Mountaineers didn’t get the last No. 1 seed, the Mountaineers felt they deserved the most favorable No. 2 seed.
It didn’t work out that way.
West Virginia instead was placed in the same region as Kentucky, the second-ranked team in the nation. A quick analysis of the four regions suggests that the East is the second-strongest, behind only the Midwest.
“The committee has a hard job,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “I fully realize that. I’ve been doing this long enough to know what a hard job they do have. I was a little surprised that we weren’t a higher two. But I’m sure there are reasons. I’m not sure what they are, but I’m sure there are reasons.”
The Mountaineers realize they can’t get caught up in their seeding. They learned their lesson last year.
West Virginia headed into last season’s tournament as a No. 6 seed and a popular pick to outperform its seeding, particularly since it had reached the Sweet 16 a year earlier. The Mountaineers instead were upset in the first round by Dayton, 68-60.
“[You must] pay attention to what’s in front of you as opposed to looking down the road,” Butler said. “I think we did a better job our sophomore year of just paying attention to what was in front of us because we were worried about getting in. We were so worried about getting in, [when] we got in, we weren’t going to take this for granted. We were going to play every game.
“Last year, we already knew we were in. We wanted to see where we were seeded. Everybody was like, ‘I can’t wait to see you guys play Kansas,’ and, ‘I can’t wait to see you play Michigan State or whoever.’ I know the coaches drilled it into our heads about Dayton, but as a team I don’t think we were focused on Dayton. I made this a point in my head. I’m honestly just thinking about Morgan State right now.”
When the Mountaineers look at Morgan State, they find a physical team that can match their toughness, if not their talent level. Morgan State has encountered more adversity this school year than most programs see in a decade.
Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman began his Thursday news conference by noting all the hurdles his team overcame on its way to the tournament.
Sophomore swingman Ameer Ali’s father committed suicide. Senior guard Troy Smith’s daughter, who was born blind, had a tumor removed. Freshman forward Anthony Anderson hasn’t played since being diagnosed with leukemia before the season, though his teammates wear a No. 4 patch in his honor.
“Everybody is going to have adversity,” Bozeman said. “It just depends on how you deal with it.”
Bozeman should know. He led California to three NCAA tournament berths in the 1990s before receiving an eight-year suspension from the NCAA after paying $30,000 to the parents of a recruit. He went from coaching in the Sweet 16 to coaching an AAU 9-and-under team.
Bozeman spent a decade away from the college game before Morgan State hired him. He now has the Bears in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year.
Morgan State’s run of misfortune should put West Virginia’s questionable seeding in the proper perspective. Besides, a closer look at West Virginia’s bracket shows that the selection committee didn’t disrespect the Mountaineers too much. No. 3 seed New Mexico is the only team in its half of the region with an RPI in the top 30.
As long as the Mountaineers avoid distractions, their suffocating defense should get them to the regional final. And if anyone plays West Virginia close enough that the game comes down to a last shot, who would you rather have on the floor than Butler?
“They should have been a No. 1 pick – a No. 1 seed,” Bozeman said.
Don’t tell that to Butler. He doesn’t want to hear it.
“I don’t read newspapers and things like that,” Butler said. “It’s bad luck. I never play good when I look at positive things about me. It just gets to my head.”
There’s no need to worry about Butler letting his recent success go to his head this week. The selection committee made sure of that.