March Madness invades the Verizon Center with a slate of four second round games on Thursday, March 17 followed by two third round games on Saturday, March 19. Tipping things off at 12:40 p.m. will be a Southeast Region matchup between the eighth- seeded Butler Bulldogs (23-9) against the Old Dominion Monarchs (27-6).
Butler has made the NCAA tournament for five straight years, and played in last year’s national title game, losing in the closing minutes to Duke. This year, Butler will return five players with previous NCAA experience — seniors Matt Howard, Shawn Vanzant and Zach Hahn and juniors Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored.
The close loss to Duke last season could have proved to be a discouraging moment, but Nored sees it differently.
“I think it was really encouraging, I tell people all the time I don’t think it was a letdown at all. I wouldn’t have had last year any different. I think it was scripted the way it should have been. The things that we received as a result of that worked out the exact way that it should have. I’m happy with the result,” Nored said.
Nored sees this year’s squad also making a serious run in the tournament.
“I feel good about this year. I think the team that we have this year, with our little change on the front line from last year with Matt Howard and Andrew Smith both being down low as opposed to just Matt Howard last year, I think we have some unbelievable weapons,” Nored said.
Despite their frequent appearances in the NCAA tournament, the Butler seniors still find it exciting.
“I think it’s always special. It’s always exciting to get back here. There’s only a limited amount of teams and you don’t always get a chance of being in it, so it’s special every time,” Howard said.
Hahn cited the importance of the experience factor.
“I think playing the last couple of years in the tournament can definitely give you some experience. There are always the big NBA-type facilities, and that can be different for a lot of teams that haven’t been here before. It allows us to play more calm and relaxed and have fun,” Hahn said.
As for Vanzant, he feels lucky to be here once again.
“Like they say, I’m just lucky to make the NCAA tournament four years in a row. Just a pleasure being here and I’m enjoying the moment,” Vanzant said.
Butler’s opponents, the ODU Monarchs, will be making their fourth appearance in the tournament, and completed a nine-game winning streak en route to their second straight Colonial Athletic Association title. The two teams will open the Tournament as opponents for the second time in five years.
“We’re not too worried about what they did in the past. You gotta come out and focus on this year. They still have a good team, but we have a good team, too. It’s going to be a fun game tomorrow,” said senior guard Darius James.
The Monarch seniors believe their experience will be a key factor.
“Experience goes a long way in games like this. We can bait the young guys and they’ll shoot a bad shot; we’ll go down and get a good one,” said senior swingman Ben Finney.
James said the key is the fact that this squad has been here before.
“I don’t think there’s any type of game we haven’t been in. We’ve been behind and fought back. We’ve been ahead and we’ve been a team that’s trying to get back into the game. So anything that’s presented to us, we know how to handle it,” James said.
Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor believes his team plays with a certain “comfort level” that will serve them well.
“We’re more than happy to be here because we’ve been in post season play so many times. We’re very respectful of how challenging the Tournament is and how good the teams are. They’ve [Butler’s] certainly got the ambition and the through that they can advance through the tournament also. That’s where it’s a good match-up,” Taylor said.
“It’s not their first rodeo, and it’s not our first rodeo either.”