Old Dominion knows Butler all too well

Posted: March 17, 2011

WASHINGTON - Old Dominion knows all too well about Butler's history of success in the NCAA Tournament.

When Butler reached the round of 16 in 2007, ODU was the first of its two victims. In preparation for today's rematch in the Southeast Regional in Washington, Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor ran a tape of that game on the team bus ride to the nation's capital.

"It was interesting to see these two fresh-faced redshirts down on the end of the bench, Keyon Carter and Frank Hassell, sitting there cheering like two little sixth-graders," Taylor said yesterday.

As juniors at Old Dominion last year, Carter and Hassell watched on television as Butler surprised one team after another before falling in the NCAA title game against Duke.

"I was pulling for Butler," Carter recalled. "They just showed the whole country that the bar between the mid-majors and elite teams is shrinking."

Butler (23-9), the eighth seed in the Southeast, is not to be taken lightly. Ever. Not after winning 11 games in six NCAA Tournament appearances, and certainly not after last season's incredible run.

"They've got a good program. We have a good program as well," Old Dominion senior guard Darius James said. "But we're not too worried about what they did in the past."

Taylor refers to the Dukes and North Carolinas of the world as BCS schools, a reference to the label applied to large Division I football teams. That doesn't mean ODU and Butler can't match up with the big boys - as evidenced by Butler's past performances and the Monarchs' opening-round win over Notre Dame in 2010.

"The non-BCS schools, we feel like we can certainly compete," Taylor said. "We have an uphill battle, sometimes resource-wise, sometimes just perception-wise."

Taylor was asked if he told his players to use what Butler did last year as inspiration.

"Not really," he replied. "Our kids look around and probably hear it from enough different angles that the non-BCS school can maybe jump on a storybook ride."

Ninth-seed Old Dominion (27-6) enters as the Colonial Athletic Conference champion and with a nine-game winning streak. Butler is a vastly different team than last season, but the Horizon League champions have been treated with respect at every stop.

"There were a lot of times when we go into some places and it seems like there's maybe even a little bit higher level of excitement than usual," Butler forward Matt Howard said. "It prepares us for situations like this where we can get in a different or a tough environment and play through it."

It all began last year when, in the title game, the Bulldogs hung with Duke right until Gordon Heyward's desperation shot from halfcourt barely missed.

Heyward is gone, but Butler is back. If the Bulldogs defeat Old Dominion, they could face a second-round matchup with top seed Pittsburgh.

And guess who would be picked to win that one?

Some things never change.

"I've always felt like the underdog," Butler senior Shawn Vanzant said. "Going to last year and this year, I still feel like the underdog, so I like that feeling with a chip on your shoulder and going hard every game."

Butler coach Brad Stevens simply wants his team to be recognized for what it has done, regardless of what league it's in or the size of the school.

"We're a basketball team with some pride that wants to go out and compete at the highest level," he said, "and these guys have given us a chance to do that."

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