After a too-close-for-comfort victory Friday afternoon in San Juan, the Butler Bulldogs are gearing up to face the fast-paced Miami Hurricanes in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship game.
The Butler versus Miami bout promises to be a crowd-pleaser, as both teams are equipped with high-powered offenses and aren’t afraid to play physical on both ends of the floor.
This will without a doubt be the most challenging matchup yet for the ‘Dawgs, who, even after shooting a dismal 24 percent (5-11) from behind the arc, just barely squeaked by a mediocre Temple squad in the semifinals. The majority of those missed three-pointers came from senior standout Kellen Dunham, a preseason First Team All-Big East selection, who hit just two of 13 from deep.
In order for Butler – ranked 20th in the USA Today Coaches Poll – to bring home a first-place trophy, Dunham, and the team as a whole for that matter, needs to knock down every open shot the stingy Hurricanes give up (which won’t be many).
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The Bulldogs also can’t afford to fall behind early in the game, something they allowed to happen against Temple. Butler trailed the Owls 21-9 with nearly 11 minutes to play in the first half.
While they were able to bounce back and lead by four points at halftime, the chances of the ‘Dawgs coming back from a similar deficit against an undefeated Miami squad are slim-to-none.
Butler’s saving grace against Temple came in the form of a 22-14 advantage in second-chance points, which, if replicated, could prove to be the difference-maker against the Hurricanes. Miami upset sixteenth-ranked Utah in the tournament semifinals by a score of 90-66.Redshirt senior Sheldon McClellan, a 6-foot-5-inch guard, lead the Hurricanes with 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-5 from downtown.
Center Tonye Jekiri logged a double-double in the match up with 20 points and 12 rebounds. The 7-footer could prove to be a nightmare for the much-smaller Bulldogs, and will need to be kept quiet on the boards if there is any hope for Butler to notch its fourth win of the season.
Overall, Miami shot 9-of-17 from behind the arc and logged eight steals against the Utes. Compare that to Butler’s horrendous day of shooting and only three steals and it’s not hard to see that the ‘Dawgs must step up their game.
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Miami is dangerous. They are perhaps the most underrated team in the entire country, and while they aren’t nationally ranked just yet, they surely will be when the week-three polls come out Monday.
Although I continue to believe Butler will ultimately take home a “W” against the Hurricanes, it’s not going to come easily by any means. In fact, while this is the championship matchup I predicted before the tournament began, I secretly hoped I’d be wrong.
Miami is the one team in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off with the personnel and playing style to hand Butler its first loss of the season.
However, if there is one thing Bulldog fans have learned throughout the years, it’s that Butler always shows up to big games ready for a fight.
The championship game kicks off Sunday night at 7:30 ET on ESPN 2, and can be heard on 1070 AM or 93.5 FM.
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