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NCAA tournament preview: Notre Dame vs. Butler

PITTSBURGH -- Aside from an Indiana address, The Butler Bulldogs and Notre Dame Fighting Irish don’t have a whole lot in common. The Bulldogs practically sprinted to the new Big East; the Irish’s departure helped the old one crumble. Butler’s total athletic department operating expenses, per the Department of Education, is $11 million; Notre Dame’s is $97 million.

And then there is where the two schools really walk divergent paths -- on the basketball court.

Chris Holtmann is fond of saying his Butler Bulldogs prefer to make teams feel like they’re playing basketball in a phone booth. Mike Brey prefers open fields.

So round of 32 NCAA tournament game Saturday between the two should, at the very least, be interesting.

"I mean, it’s contrasting styles," Brey said. "I’m impressed with how physical they are. ... We’ve got to try and get some stops and run. I think it’s hard to play against their defense, their set defense the whole night."

Key to the game: Believe it or not, the inside game.

Here’s the thing. The Irish love to shoot 3s and are very good at it, ranking 17h in the nation, knocking down 39.2 percent per game.

Notre Dame’s real dagger comes in transition, where virtually everyone can hit from long distance, but the Bulldogs have no problem stretching their defense to stop shooters. They rank 26th nationally in 3-point field goal percent defense, limiting opponents to 30.7 percent.

So let’s call that a push.

If, however, the Irish can feed Zach Auguste as effectively as they did against Northeastern (he had 25 points) a much smaller Bulldogs team could be in trouble. Kameron Woods, at 6-foot-9, ranks as the tallest guy in the Butler lineup.

"They do a great job, not just of shooting and making 3s, but they do a great job of getting paint scores off of their movement and their action," Holtmann said. "We’ve talked a lot this year about they make you guard the entire floor."

Player to watch: Jerian Grant. Mostly because it usually is, but also because if he can do what he does very well, namely penetrate and dish or get to the rim, Butler could have troubles.

The Bulldogs have faced plenty of good guards this season -- like, say, Villanova, which has twice as many as most teams -- but they haven’t faced anyone quite like Grant. He’s a future first-rounder who is equally content playing defense, setting up his teammates or scoring. Against Northeastern, he had 17 points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals.

Alex Barlow and Kellen Dunham are smart, savvy upperclassmen who don’t make many mistakes and are unafraid to get after guys defensively, but handling Grant is a whole new task unto itself.

If they can limit him, or at least get him off his groove, it could help upset the Irish’s offensive balance.