NEW ORLEANS (AP)—Butler’s Matt Howard took a stroll down Bourbon Street on Tuesday night, experiencing a strip of restaurants, bars and hangouts known for lavish parties and excess.
The senior forward knew within minutes that it wasn’t his type of place.
Too much flash. Too crazy.
“It’s not my personality, it’s not what I like to do,” Howard said. “For me, it’s almost unnecessary. I’d rather stay away from that.”
Howard, much like the Bulldogs, is more of a stoic, hardworking Midwestern guy. And when eighth-seeded Butler faces fourth-seeded Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals on Thursday night, there will be a lot of that on the floor at New Orleans Arena.
It’s worked for both programs. Wisconsin has become one of the most consistent teams in the country, making its fifth run to the round of 16 in the past 11 seasons. Butler is in the midst of a second straight deep run in March that included a trip to the national championship game last season, where the Bulldogs lost to Duke.
“They don’t beat themselves so we’re going to have to beat them,” Wisconsin freshman Josh Gasser said. “That’s a lot like how we play.”
Wisconsin (25-8) is the typical Big Ten team, with a suffocating defense and methodical offense that slowly wears opponents down. That’s how the Badgers were able to slip past Kansas State in the second round with a 70-65 win, despite Jacob Pullen’s 38 points.
Jon Leuer led Wisconsin with 19 points in the game, but it was sophomore Mike Bruesewitz who became the poster child of the Badgers’ success. The 6-foot-6 forward scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds off the bench, with his bright red, curly hair flying all over the court.
After the game, Kansas State coach Frank Martin pulled Bruesewitz aside and asked if he had a brother he could recruit.
“He said ‘I almost called a time out a couple times just to kiss you,” Bruesewitz said.
Bruesewitz said compliments like that are the best he can receive.
“It means you must be doing something right,” Bruesewitz said.
Wisconsin’s methodical style has occasionally been the target of jokes, especially after the Badgers were bounced by Penn State in the Big Ten tournament by an unsightly 36-33 score.
But count Butler coach Brad Stevens as a fan.
“I could sit up here and flatter them all day,” Stevens said. “I’ll telling you what—why wouldn’t you want to play a way where everybody is completely unselfish?
Later he added: “There’s a reason they don’t lose very often.”
The Badgers might have met their blue-collar match in Butler (25-9), a team that has been opportunistic and unflappable in narrow victories over Old Dominion and top-seeded Pittsburgh in the first two rounds of the tournament.
Howard, a 6-foot-8 senior, has been at the center of both victories, hitting a layup on a put-back to beat Old Dominion at the buzzer and then sinking the winning free throw against Pitt after a foul with less than a second remaining.
It would be easy to say Butler’s been lucky. But after a two-year run of unprecedented success, it’s obvious the Bulldogs are making their own luck. They’re on an 11-game winning streak after losing four of five conference games in late January and early February.
“It’s definitely the character of the team—the combination of a lot of things,” Butler senior Zach Hahn said. “Guys are willing and able to step up when it’s their time. It’s about putting the team above self.”
If that happens, Butler may very well find itself in a second-straight Final Four, which would be an unprecedented accomplishment for a so-called mid-major program.
Just don’t expect the Bulldogs to party on Bourbon Street.
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