The eighth-seeded Bulldogs have had a similar path to the Sweet 16 as the Badgers, which makes it fitting that the two schools will meet in the regional semifinal Thursday night at the New Orleans Arena.
In the second round many analysts were picking Old Dominion to advance, much like many analysts had Belmont beating Wisconsin. In next round Butler took on the region's top-seed Pittsburgh. While Wisconsin wasn't taking on a one-seed, they did play fifth-seed Kansas State which, again, many experts picked to knock off Wisconsin.
Both teams overcame the odds and are now in the Sweet 16 facing each other.
Butler and Wisconsin shared a similar path to the Sweet 16, and their styles of play are also similar. However if you take a closer look they are also vastly different.
Wisconsin (25-8) and Butler (25-9) like to control the pace of a game. If they are able to run, they run, but most likely will set up their half-court offense and execute with extreme efficiency. Both teams also play a physical style of defense, limiting the opponent to difficult shots and few extra opportunities.
After those similarities, each team has strengths which are different.
Wisconsin thrives on the fact that they have a bevy of good big-men. Wisconsin boasts a roster with multiple players 6-foot 8 and taller. Butler on the other hand has just two true big-men.
Butler is better known for their playmaking guards and sharp-shooting wing players. Wisconsin does have a few guards that can make players like Taylor and Gasser, but lacks depth on the perimeter.
Now let's take a more in-depth look at the Butler Bulldogs:
#1 Shelvin Mack - Junior - 6-foot 3, 215 pounds
Butler's premier scorer and perimeter player, Mack is built like a tank and is very physical. Second on the team in scoring (15.6) and first in assists (3.6). He can get to the rim with ease, but really likes to pull-up from the outside when he has a mismatch. Mack has a great mid-range jumper, which is difficult to stop because it is such a lost art, and many defenders don't think he will stop-and-pop on his way to the rim. Range out to the NBA 3-pointer (74 of 211). Solid defender, but doesn't have the quickest feet to stay in front of really quick guards.
#2 Shawn Vanzant - Senior - 6-foot, 172 pounds
Early in his career, Vanzant had a problem of trying to play too fast. He has solved that problem and is Butler's best player off the dribble. He creates his own shot better than anyone else on the team. Likes the fade away pull-up jumper from just inside the 3-point line, but can also hit the spot-up 3-pointer (42.1 percent) when playing off the ball. Quick feet and hands on the defensive end make him Butler's second best perimeter defender.
#54 Matt Howard - Senior - 6-foot 8, 230 pounds
Butler's best perimeter big-man and post player. Leads the team in scoring (16.7) and rebounding (7.7). Has multiple post moves and is able to stretch the defense with the 3-point shot. While he only hit five 3-pointers before this season, he has really flourished from 3-point range this season, making 48-of-111 (43.2 percent). Howard might not be as athletic or as fluid as many players that Wisconsin has faced this season, but there isn't anyone that works harder. Makes all of the hustle plays and rebounds well out of his range, especially on the offensive glass. Does have foul difficulties due to his hard work, but hasn't had any during the second half of the season.
#44 Andrew Smith - Sophomore - 6-foot 11, 239 pounds
Andrew Smith played very little during the NCAA Tournament last season, but made his debut against Kansas State and played very well. Since then, he has really developed into a solid post player. Led the team and Horizon League in FG percentage (61.9 percent). His favorite post move is the right-handed jump hook. He is the only true big man, taller than 6-foot 10, that can matchup physically with the Wisconsin big-men. Solid rebounder (5.4) and really hits the offensive glass well. Pretty athletic and runs the floor well. Does have some fouling problems as well.
#33 Chase Stigall - Sophomore - 6-foot 4, 195 pounds
Stigall played very little last season. He has come into his own as a sophomore and been a solid option from 3-point range. He is in the starting lineup because he can stretch the defense from 3-point range (34.3 percent). Doesn't create off the dribble at all. Stigall is strictly a spot-up 3-point shooter. Not great on defense, but has solid size and foot quickness.
The Key Reserves
#5 Ronald Nored - Junior - 6-foot, 174 pounds
Nored is best known for his work during the run last season through the NCAA Tournament. He is one of the premier perimeter defenders in the country. Has locked down many great scorers and really has quick hands and knows how to be physical on defense, despite his smaller size. Not a great shooter from the perimeter on offense, but can score off the dribble occasionally. Not a great passer and makes some poor decisions.
#32 Garrett Butcher - Junior - 6-foot 7, 209 pounds
Butcher is one of Butler's only post substitutes, but isn't a true post player. Struggles on defense against larger players, but is a capable replacement and solid rebounder. Likes to play on the perimeter as well on offense. He has range to the 3-point line, but is more comfortable just inside the 3-point line.
#3 Zach Hahn - Senior - 6-foot 1, 176 pounds
Hahn is a classic Butler 3-point shooter, and if left open has range out past the NBA 3-point line. Has struggled a little this year (32.6 percent) compared to the last 2 years (41 percent). Doesn't have the quickest release so he needs a little space to get his shot off. Struggles against quick guards on defense.
#23 Khyle Marshall - Freshman - 6-foot 7, 210 pounds
Marshall is the kind of player Butler hasn't had in the past. This is Butler's only superior athlete. Likes to shoot when he is open. Not a great outside shooter. If he misses down low he can get his own rebounds, more often than not, due to his ability to get back off the floor quickly. Forced to play in the post and struggles against bigger players. More suited to play on the wing.
The Key Matchups
Jordan Taylor vs. Nored
Probably the key matchup for Butler. Nored has shut down multiple high profile guards throughout his career, and he looks to do it again against Taylor. If they can control Taylor, they can control the heart and soul of the Badgers offense. When Taylor isn't making plays, the Wisconsin offense could get bogged down when the shot clock is running down, because they look for him to make plays in the final seconds. Taylor does have a size advantage over Nored and could take him into the post in the swing offense.
Jon Leuer vs. Howard
This is an interesting matchup of styles. Both big-men like to play on the perimeter, as well as in the post. Leuer has a little bit more height than Howard, but Howard has a little bit more weight in a smaller frame. Howard does have more skill in the post, but Leuer is a little better at driving from the perimeter. Although Howard is a little bit awkward at times, he isn't as stiff as Leuer and can move around a little better. Howard also has a better motor than Leuer when going after 50/50 balls. Should be a fun matchup to watch.
Keaton Nankivil vs. Smith
This could be the biggest advantage that Wisconsin has over Butler. While both players have similar size, Smith isn't used to playing on the perimeter, and this could be an advantage for Nankivil. Keaton likes to shoot the 3-pointer, and may get some open looks when being guarded by Smith. If he can knock down a few shots, Smith could be vulnerable to a pump fake and drive to the basket. Both players have similar post-up games, which may cancel each other out. They both also run the floor well.