The No. 6 seed Butler Bulldogs face the No. 3 seed Marquette Golden Eagles on Saturday night at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY, in a clash of two dark-horse challengers in the East Region in the Round of 32.
The Bulldogs, who were finalists in 2010 and 2011, are no longer considered a sleeper team. Head coach Brad Stevens has a winning percentage of 77.7 percent in six seasons and has propelled Butler into a perennial threat to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Butler failed to crack the Top 25 to end the season, but won four of their last five games. Stevens’s squad knocked off some of the best schools in the nation including victories over Indiana and Gonzaga, who are both No. 1 seeds in the tournament.
On Thursday, the Bulldogs held off Bucknell, 68-56. Guard Rotnei Clarke scored 17 points, while center Andrew Smith scored 14 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. However, Butler shot just 36.4 percent from the field against an opponent that only played one Top 25 team all season.
Stevens will likely need a better effort against a tough Marquette squad that finished the regular season with a 23-8 record. The Golden Eagles finished third in the Big East, which is considered the most talented conference in college basketball.
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But Buzz Williams’s squad survived a scare in their first tournament game. Marquette edged Davidson on Thursday on Vander Blue’s last second layup, 59-58. Marquette shot just 34.5 percent, and only received 15 points from the starting frontcourt.
While Blue has led the Golden Eagles in scoring this season, Davante Gardner has also been a steady force. The junior big man leads the team in rebounding (4.8 per game), while shooting 58.4 percent from the field.
The winner plays the winner of No. 2 Miami vs. No. 7 Illinois.
The game starts at 7:45 pm ET, with television coverage provided by CBS. The game can be watched online at the NCAA March Madness official site here.
Betting Odds: Marquette is favored by 1.5 points.
Over/Under: 126 points
Prediction: This will be a slow paced, grind out game, which heavily favors the Bulldogs. Blue will have to be dominant throughout the match up, and Marquette must attack the basket and get to the free throw line. The Golden Eagles should prevail with a burst in the closing minutes.
Predicted Score: Marquette 55, Butler 52