By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - A cross between SEC co-champions Auburn and Tennessee is the SEC facsimile that Arkansas coach Mike Anderson most sees in the 10th-seeded Butler Bulldogs matched with his seventh-seeded Razorbacks in the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional.
Arkansas, 23-11 of the SEC, and Indianapolis-based Butler, 20-13 of the Big East, play their East Regional first-round game at 2:10 p.m. CDT Friday on tru-TV at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
“They are a team that can spread you and shoot the ball,” Anderson said.
“You think about Auburn. Auburn probably plays a little quicker, but they are very similar in they are going to get layups or they are going to get 3-point shots from their guys. They open the floor up and they get to the free-throw line and they shoot it at a high clip, almost 80 percent from the free-throw line. It’s a team that’s going to be fundamentally sound.”
Anderson then volunteered Butler companions with the Tennessee Volunteers.
“It’s a team that plays hard, I think it’s blue-collar team like Tennessee,” Anderson said. “They’ve got great depth.”
Anderson generally refers to his bench as “the strength of the team,” but even edging Tennessee 95-93 back on Dec. 30 at Walton, Arkansas’ bench was outscored 33-5 by Tennessee reserves.
For its 84-66 victory over Arkansas in last Saturday’s SEC Tournament semifinals in St. Louis, Tennessee’s bench outscored the Razorbacks reserves 23-14.
Butler’s best player, 6-7 senior forward Kelan Martin, reminds Anderson of one of Tennessee’s best players.
“He’s a player very much like the Schofield kid at Tennessee,” Anderson said referencing 6-5 Tennessee junior forward Admiral Schofield. “He can create his own shot, he can score. He’s 6-7 and really, really crafty with the basketball. He shoots the 3-point shot and shoots it at a pretty good clip and he’s automatic from the free-throw line.”
To be like Admiral Schofield offensively means averaging 13.8 points per game.
To be like Martin means more. He averages 20.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
“He’s averaging over 20 points a game,” Anderson said. “He’s one of those guys you’ve got to get inside or outside. He’s going to get his points, so you’ve got to limit him. You have to be attentive to where he is and so you have to limit the other guys. He’s one of the top players in the Big East, and he’s one of the better players in the country.”
From one of the traditionally best basketball programs in the country.
Butler’s starting seniors, Martin and 6-8 forward Tyler Wideman, are playing in their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament for a team that this season among others has beaten Big East champion and East Regional top seed Villanova, Georgetown and Marquette and Portland State and Ohio State at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore., back during Thanksgiving weekend.
Arkansas, beating Oklahoma and Connecticut sandwiched around a loss to North Carolina, also was at the Phil Knight Invitational where Anderson and Butler coach LaVall Jordan, a former Michigan assistant, conversed.
“It’s funny because at the PK 80, the coaches get together and he and I had the chance to sit down for about 20 minutes and he was picking my brains about what we do and how we do it,” Anderson said. “So now we have the opportunity to play each other.”
Does he fret he gave away any secrets chatting with Jordan?
“No,” Anderson said. “There are no secrets. The game is played on the floor and it’s played by the players.”
And while the Bulldogs have a great one in Martin, he’s not the only one.
Guards Kamar Baldwin and Paul Jorgensen average 15.5 and 10.5 points, and Wideman averages 9.4 points and 5.1 rebounds.
“His team is very well balanced,” Anderson said. “ And they play hard and they play together defensively.”