Waiting out the Colts draft

I’m sitting here at the Colts complex just in case team president Bill Polian decides to move up in the NFL draft, which he won’t. I think there’s a good chance I’ll go home late tonight without the Colts making any picks. If Polian has his way, he’ll move down.

I’m sitting here at the Colts complex just in case team president Bill Polian decides to move up in the NFL draft, which he won’t. I think there’s a good chance I’ll go home late tonight without the Colts making any picks. If Polian has his way, he’ll move down from 31 into the second round.

Polian likes to move down in the draft and get more picks. He hates paying first round rookies big money when they haven’t played a down of NFL football. He always stresses the importance of the whole draft and signing rookie free agents. He says the hard work comes in the later rounds.

At his pre-draft news conference, Polian pointed out how many Colts starters on this year’s Super Bowl team were later round picks or undrafted players: Jeff Saturday (undrafted), Gary Brackett (undrafted), Melvin Bullitt (undrafted), Antoine Bethea (6th round), Pierre Garcon (6th round) and Robert Mathis (5th round) among the most notable. Of course, without first rounder Peyton Manning (number one overall in 1998), the Colts would not be the consistent winner they are. But the meat of the team comes from solid scouting and wise picks that come long after even the most rabid NFL fans have turned off the TV.

There’s not much excitement in the draft for a Super Bowl team. Not like when I traveled to New York City in 1998 to see if Polian take Peyton Manning instead of Ryan Leaf, the best decision in franchise history. A year later I was at Madison Square Garden when Polian made another smart choice, Edgerrin James over Ricky Williams with the 4th overall pick. Since then, the Colts have not picked in the top 10.

I picked USC offensive tackle Charles Brown for the Colts at #31 in one of those radio mock drafts today. But I think the Colts greatest need is actually a defensive tackle. The Colts are adequate at best at that position. That first pick will be important. Last year’s first rounder Donald Brown made a nice contribution as a rookie. But just as important was the signing of Jacob Lacey after the draft ended. The free agent cornerback nobody picked through 7 rounds became a solid starter.  

-Rich Nye, WTHR Sports Reporter

rnye@wthr.com     

TheSportsGuy13 at Twitter

Wow! Butler about to play in the national title game

I’m safe from the thunderstorms inside Lucas Oil Stadium, killing three hours before tipoff of the national championship game. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to stop and let it sink in: Butler is playing for a national championship. I have been so busy just covering the day-to-day road to the Final Four that I sometimes don’t really fully comprehend the magnitude of what the Bulldogs have accomplished.

I’m safe from the thunderstorms inside Lucas Oil Stadium, killing three hours before tipoff of the national championship game. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to stop and let it sink in: Butler is playing for a national championship. I have been so busy just covering the day-to-day road to the Final Four that I sometimes don’t really fully comprehend the magnitude of what the Bulldogs have accomplished.

Butler is my alma mater. I like to think the Dawg Pound really started when I was a student there in the early 1990’s and Barry Collier became coach. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team. They have taken the basketball program to a new level most people never thought possible. They have done it with class. The Bulldogs go to class, graduate, speak well, represent the university with dignity and win a lot of basketball games along the way.

But to be playing for the national championship is more than remarkable. Playing here at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis just a little dramatic twist to the storyline. This is a very good basketball team. Cinderella is not an appropriate tag for Butler, not for a team that has won 25 games in a row and started and finished the season ranked 11th in the nation. But the likelihood of a school from the Horizon League with 4,200 students and a basketball budget less than what many head coaches make at other schools actually reaching the title game is about the same as a 16 seed beating a 1 seed in the first round (which has never happened).  

It has happened. And now Butler has the chance to do what Indiana State and Larry Bird could not in 1979, win a national championship for a little mid-major from the Hoosier state. They will have to beat one of the giants in college basketball. When Butler was just starting to turn its basketball program around, Duke was starting to build one of the dominant programs in the game.

The Blue Devils won their first national championship in 1991, right here in Indianapolis. Since then, coach Mike Krzyzewski has led Duke to two more titles and the best winning percentage in the NCAA tournament of any school (minimum 50 games). This year’s version may not have the future NBA stars of some of the other Duke squads, but is still one of the best.

The Blue Devils have won more games (64) over the past two seasons than any team in college basketball. The Blue Devils allow just 61 points a game, the best defensive average at Duke since 1950. Duke led the ACC in rebounding. The Blue Devils are an experienced bunch with all senior and junior starters. Butler has knocked off some really good teams on this magical run. But Duke will be the biggest challenge yet. And I mean big. The Blue Devils have size across their starting five and down the bench.

A Butler win would rank as one of the top 10 stories in Indianapolis sports history, maybe top five. It might rank as the biggest story in NCAA tourney history. Whatever happens, the ride has been incredible. The Dogs have been this man’s best friend. 

-Rich Nye, WTHR Sports Reporter

rnye@wthr.com

TheSportsGuy13 on Twitter

Excitement builds on the Butler campus

Guest blogger and WTHR intern Jillian Deam writes about what it’s like on campus this week as the Bulldogs gear up for their Final Four appearance.

Jillian Deam with the Butler mascot

When I came to Butler from Illinois in the fall of 2006,it didn’t take long to realize just how big a deal basketball was around here. That year the Bulldogs made it to the Sweet Sixteen, and the campus was full of excitement.

Fast forward four years and that “excitement” pales in comparison to the atmosphere on campus today. As the clock counted down the final seconds of last Saturday’s regional final against Kansas State, students stormed Hampton Drive in celebration. Even days after this historical moment you can’t walk through campus without hearing talk about the team’s magical journey through March Madness and the possibility of Butler winning a national title right here in our own backyard.

In fact, I’ve given up on trying to pass through the bookstore during the day, as it’s continuously packed with Bulldog fans, young and old, buying t-shirts. But I don’t mind. The team’s advancement to the Final Four is what college basketball fans dream of… and it’s certainly the perfect way to wrap-up my fours years at Butler!

Many are calling this a “Cinderella Story” – something straight out of the movie “Hoosiers”.  However, no matter how this story ends, this team has not only captured the heart of the Butler Nation, but of the entire nation.

– Jillian Deam, WTHR intern and Butler senior

Butler’s best player? A self-debate

Salt Lake City, Utah – I posed this question over dinner last night with some of my Indianapolis media brethren: Who is Butler’s best overall basketball player? I asked because I wasn’t sure how to answer myself.

Salt Lake City, Utah – I posed this question over dinner last night with some of my Indianapolis media brethren: Who is Butler’s best overall basketball player? I asked because I wasn’t sure how to answer myself.

The first and easiest answer is sophomore forward Gordon Hayward. After all, he is the Horizon League player of the year. Hayward has the most skills and tools. Most experts say he can leave Butler after this season and be a first round NBA draft pick. But Hayward has not been the go-to guy lately. He led the Bulldogs with 17 points against Syracuse in the Sweet 16 victory. But before Thursday, he had not posted a team-high in scoring in well over a month.

So if not Hayward, who. My vote right now would be Shelvin Mack. He is fearless on the offensive end and scores a bucket when the Bulldogs need it the most. His defense has improved and he’s always on the floor. Only Hayward has played more minutes than Mack.

But you could make a pretty good argument for Ronald Nored, too. Nored is the toughest Bulldog, guards like a hound dog and runs the show on offense. Lately, he has made the big plays in crunch time. His free throw shooting can be a real problem if Butler has the lead late. But his leadership is obvious even as a sophomore.

The senior Willie Veasley is not out of the question. He never puts up big numbers. But he makes a steal , a tip-in or a three-pointer that wins games.

And I don’t leave out Matt Howard. He has not had the season he enjoyed a year ago. But he is still the only inside presence for the Bulldogs. When he’s in foul trouble and not on the floor, the Bulldogs can be in real trouble.

I say Mack is the best all-around player right now. But I’m waiting for that breakout game from Hayward. Maybe today against Kansas State.

Rich Nye, WTHR Sports Reporter

rnye@wthr.com

TheSportsGuy13 at Twitter

March Madness in the Wild West

Salt Lake City, Utah – I visited all the landmarks in Salt Lake City: the Great Salt Lake, the 2002 Winter Olympics Cauldron Park, the Utah state capital, the Mormon church headquarters and the Rose Park Coin Laundry. With clean underwear, I am now ready to switch my reporting duties from the Purdue Boilermakers to the Butler Bulldogs.

Salt Lake City, Utah – I visited all the landmarks in Salt Lake City: the Great Salt Lake, the 2002 Winter Olympics Cauldron Park, the Utah state capital, the Mormon church headquarters and the Rose Park Coin Laundry. With clean underwear, I am now ready to switch my reporting duties from the Purdue Boilermakers to the Butler Bulldogs.

But first a few closing thoughts on the Boilermakers, who I covered in Spokane, Washington, last week. Purdue advancing to the Sweet 16 is a huge accomplishment for a team that most experts (and maybe even some fans) had written off after Robbie Hummel’s injury. Chris Kramer’s toughness and determination has spread throughout the whole team.

The Boilermakers have proven many people wrong, including me. I thought this was a Final Four team with Hummel. I thought they would win one tourney game without him. I can’t see the Boilers beating Duke. But maybe that’s just the kind of motivation Purdue needs to hear. Hummel will join the team in Houston, giving Purdue another emotional boost.

Going from Spokane to Salt Lake City made more sense than coming home and leaving the next day, and saved Channel 13 a few dollars. So that’s why I’m with the Bulldogs now. Butler is in my Final Four. But I realize I’m going with a big underdog. Syracuse is a very good number one seed. The Orange won their first two games in the NCAA tourney by more than 20 points each.

Butler will have to play its best game of the season. Birthday boy Gordon Hayward, who turned 20 Tuesday, will have to perform the way every Bulldog fan knows he can. We have not seen that game from him for awhile. Butler has never advanced to the Elite 8. I think this is Butler’s best team and now is the time. Brad Stevens will be a hot coaching commodity at the Final Four. I hope he’s still coaching Butler that weekend.

Syracuse has often been a team ripe for an upset in the NCAA tourney. If Northern Iowa can beat Kansas, I believe Butler can beat Syracuse.

-Rich Nye, WTHR Sports Reporter

rnye@wthr.com

TheSportsGuy13 on Twitter

Ready for Purdue tipoff in Spokane

Spokane, Washington – Purdue plays in about one hour here in the Northwest, a long way from the Final Four in Indianapolis. Purdue looks like a long shot. A Final Four favorite just a month ago, now the Boilermakers are many experts’ target for an upset today at the hands of 13th seed Siena.

Spokane, Washington – Purdue plays in about one hour here in the Northwest, a long way from the Final Four in Indianapolis. Purdue looks like a long shot. A Final Four favorite just a month ago, now the Boilermakers are many experts’ target for an upset today at the hands of 13th seed Siena.

While I can’t see Purdue getting any farther than the Sweet 16 (and that would be a good accomplishment for this now vulnerable squad), I do believe they will win today. Siena is a good team with 27 wins, champions of the MAAC. The Saints are in the NCAA tourney for the third straight year and have pulled off upsets in their first round game the last two years. The last time Siena lost was to Butler February 20th. The Bulldogs proved just how good they are Thursday in a first round blowout of UTEP (I’ve got Butler in the Final Four and I don’t think I look too crazy anymore).

But Siena has not beaten anybody that would impress you. The Saints played some good teams: Temple, Georgia Tech, Northern Iowa and Butler. Siena lost all of those games. Purdue may not be what it once was. But the Boilermakers are still good enough to beat the Saints. The 2nd round will be a little trickier. Check back with me on that.

A couple more thoughts before tipoff:

-Purdue has won 11 straight first round NCAA tournament games. That’s an impressive run that will not end today.

-Senior Keaton Grant has played in 99 victories, the most of any player in Purdue history. A win today would make a nice even 100. I’m afraid that’s where it will stop.

If Robbie Hummel comes back healthy next fall, Purdue will be a potential number one team in the nation. Until then, Boilermaker fans may have to settle for one and done.

Rich Nye, WTHR Sports Reporter

rnye@wthr.com

Follow Rich at TheSportsGuy13 on Twitter

Purdue players on Siena game

Quotes from Purdue basketball players, who face Siena without star Robbie Hummel Friday afternoon.

“We’ve had a few ups and downs, which was expected, but it’s the tournament now and the only thing we can do is just try to move forward and stay strong as a team and go out and get ready to try to win our ball game tomorrow,” said E’Twaun Moore, junior guard.

“I really didn’t have time to feel sorry for us. We’re in the middle of the Big Ten championship. We were able to accomplish that. So for the most part our team just handled the whole situation well. We knew we had to move on and just be ready to play,” said JuJuan Johnson, junior forward.

“I’m about 75 percent right now. Hopefully get a little bit better tomorrow – that’ll take a lot of pressure off if I’m feeling better, so hopefully get a little better percentage tomorrow when it’s time to play,” said Lewis Jackson, point guard.

Life Without Hummel Tough For Purdue

Robbie Hummel’s season-ending knee injury is so unfortunate on many levels.

Robbie Hummel’s season-ending knee injury is so unfortunate on many levels. First for Hummel: he missed several games last season with a bad back. He came back strong this season and was a finalist for some player of the year awards.  For the Purdue Boilermakers, they lose a player who does just about everything well. As Hummel goes, so goes the Boilers. But Hummel will not be going anywhere but rehab. And for Purdue fans, this was the season the Boilermakers could get back to the Final Four in Indianapolis, just like they did in 1980. Now that seems unlikely.

This Purdue team is playing so well. After a disappointing skid of three games early in the Big Ten season, the Boilermakers have won 10 straight games to take sole posession of first place in the conference. Purdue has climbed to 3rd in the national rankings. A top seed in the NCAA tourney is a definite possibility. But I’ve heard many people say Purdue just went from a Final Four team to a Sweet 16 squad. I can’t disagree.

If the Boilermakers still want to reach their goals of a Big Ten championship and Final Four run, they have to keep playing with the guts and determination they did at Minnesota after Hummel went down. JaJaun Johnson has to own the paint without getting in foul trouble. Keaton Grant has to play like a senior who only has a few games left and wants to save the best for last. Chris Kramer has to be a shut down defender against the opponent’s best player.

All that is possible, but difficult to sustain. Hummel is a huge loss. Purdue’s Sunday game against Michigan State will be a good indicator of the mental fortitude of the Boilermakers after taking such a big blow.

-Rich Nye, WTHR Sports Reporter

rnye@wthr.com

TheSportsGuy13 on Twitter