"They're a nightmare to match up with," UT coach Bruce Pearl noted. "Now, Butler's 22 and 0 when they hit eight or more 3s. And they made nine in the first half yesterday."
All told, Butler hit 15 of 28 shots from 3 vs. South Alabama. Pete Campbell, a 6-7 reserve, led the charge by hitting 8 of 10 from beyond the arc and scoring 26 points in just 20 minutes. A.J. Graves hit 4 of 11 from 3 and added 18 points.
"It's a wonderful offense," Pearl said. "When you put four guys out there that can shoot it, it just makes the defense so challenged. And it does spread you out."
Recent history shows that teams who spread Tennessee out and make 3s give the Big Orange fits. Texas hit 50 percent (10 of 20) from beyond the arc and trounced the Vols 97-78 in November. Vanderbilt hit 38.8 percent (9 of 24) from 3 and beat the Vols 72-69 in February. Arkansas hit 44.4 percent (8 of 18) of its 3-pointers and edged the Vols 92-91 last week in the SEC Tournament semifinals. The only team to beat Tennessee this season without success from 3 was Kentucky, which won by forcing a deliberate tempo – another Butler characteristic.
"We're going to obviously have to do everything we can to try to take that 3-ball away," Pearl said. "We have defended Butler well in the past but they're better this year than any Butler team I've played. And they do a great job defensively. They're fifth in the nation in scoring defense. And they have held 14 opponents down below 55 points. And last year they held us to 44."
The 44 points was the lowest total of Pearl's three-year tenure at Tennessee. Odds are, the Bulldogs will force a slow tempo again today. If so, Tennessee will have to beat Butler at its own game by executing precisely in its halfcourt offense and making every possession count. If the Vols commit 14 turnovers – as they did Friday against American University – they almost certainly will lose.
An added sidelight to today's Round of 32 game is the fact it is the first in NCAA history matching two teams with 30 wins. The Vols are 30-4, the Bulldogs 30-3. Additionally, both teams are angry. Tennessee's No. 2 seed was a disappointment. Butler's No. 7 seed was a travesty.
"Yeah, it's going to be a grind-out game ... a physical game," Vol All-American Chris Lofton said. "I can see that. Both teams are playing with a chip on our shoulder and we're out to prove something, so it should be a great game."
Tennessee sank just 3 of 29 second-half shots in last year's loss to Butler in the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden. The Big Orange finished at just 25 percent from the field (13 of 52) and from 3-point range (6 of 24). Being humiliated in The Big Apple is an experience the Vols have not forgotten.
"I think last year we overlooked Butler ... being from the Horizon League," Lofton recalled. "Then we found out that it doesn't matter in college basketball, that all teams are great. Butler's a great team, and they showed that last year and they showed it this year.
"So, we just know that we got our hands full and we have to play a great basketball game and control the boards and play great defense."
JaJuan Smith, Lofton's backcourt mate, offered similar thoughts.
"As a team, we just felt like we didn't come ready to play last year against Butler," he said. "We were well prepared from our coaches; we just didn't perform up to our ability.
"Now we know what we got to do with them, and we're going to be ready."
If the Vols aren't ready, another disappointing loss is probably in the offing.