WASHINGTON, D.C. -- They are used to filibustering here. They are used to the endless conversation to delay the inevitable.
Unlike in politics, eventually the talk stops in basketball and the games begin.
The prognostications, what-ifs and should-haves give way to the expected or sometimes, even better, the unexpected results.
So it is a rare, but welcome, time here in our nation’s capital -- a time to stop talking and start the action.
What to watch: Can Old Dominion’s defense contain what has, at least lately, been a hot-shooting Butler team? The Monarchs aren’t pretty nor do they try to be. There is no such thing as a bad shot for ODU. Instead every shot is an opportunity for a rebound for a team that ranks seventh in the country on the boards. But if the Monarchs have an Achilles heel it is guarding the arc and the Bulldogs have been very good there. Butler is averaging 7.4 3-pointers over its past nine games (all wins). If the Bulldogs get hot, Old Dominion won’t have the offense to keep up.
Who to watch: For Butler, it’s Matt Howard. The Bulldogs need Howard on the floor. He’s fouled out four times this season and been on the precipice, saddled with four fouls, eight other times. With an active rebounding team like ODU, Butler can not afford to have Howard, who leads the team with 7.8 rebounds per game, as a spectator.
Old Dominion’s go-to guy is Frank Hassell. The senior, the guts of the Monarch team, almost averages a double-double -- 15 points and 9.6 rebounds -- each game.
Why to watch: Plenty of people would have picked either of these teams as a first-round upset specialist. Now someone will be eliminated. No one’s head is going to be turned by the glitz of the tournament here. Both teams are experienced -- the Monarchs start four seniors and a redshirt junior and Butler has five players who have appeared in at least seven NCAA Tournament games -- so this should be a well-played game between two worthy opponents.
What they’re saying: “Yeah, I’m the youngest. I’m 21. Ben [Finney], he’s 28.’’ Old Dominion redshirt junior Kent Bazemore joked about the experienced Monarchs, who start four seniors.
“We’ve talked about it a lot, but our message is we’re trying to live up to the standards of our program.’’ Butler coach Brad Stevens said on the challenges of living up to the expectations from last year’s national final run.
Of note: Four years ago, Butler and Old Dominion squared off in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs scored the 57-46 victory. ... Butler coach Brad Stevens is a new NBA fan thanks to Gordon Hayward. “I ordered the NBA League Pass for the first time in my life. I’ve watched more Utah Jazz games than I have in my entire 33 years combined before this.’’
What to watch: Everyone is wondering how much energy Connecticut will have after five games in five nights. How about UNC-Asheville? The Bulldogs went to overtime against Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday night, caught a midnight charter from Dayton to Washington D.C., and got to their hotel at 2:30 AM. Team breakfast, more like a brunch, was served at 11:30. The Panthers, meantime, haven’t played since Kemba Walker broke Gary McGhee's ankles in the Big East Tournament. You’d have to think with that loss marinating for a week the Panthers will be ready.
Who to watch: Overshadowed in the tough loss to Connecticut at the Big East Tournament was Ashton Gibbs' ridiculous performance. The guard was 10-of-13 from the floor and 6-of-7 from 3-point range for 27 points, an eye-opening, dazzling night in normal circumstances. Walker just wasn’t normal. For Asheville, Matt Dickey already is a YouTube hero, his buzzer-beating 3-point winner against Coastal Carolina now a shot saved for posterity. He is, however, more than a one-hit wonder. The junior scored 22 in Asheville’s OT win against Arkansas-Little Rock in the First Four.
Why to watch: Well, you never know. Someday, somewhere, some No. 16 team is going to pull off the ultimate Cinderella moment. Would you want to miss it if this was that moment?
What they’re saying: “Once you achieve a certain level, satisfied should never enter into the equation,’’ Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said about his team’s hunger to get over the hump and reach the Final Four.
“Do we have to play perfect to beat a No. 1 seed? I don’t know. We can have perfect attitude, perfect effort. I read a book once that said golf is not a game of perfect. Well neither is basketball. We’re going to make some mistakes out there but let’s get those in proper perspective and see if we can win a big game here.’’ UNC-Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach said on trying to do the impossible.
Of note: The albatross still hangs around Pittsburgh's neck. As successful as the Panthers have been in the regular season, they haven’t been able to cash in come March. The Panthers have made the NCAA Tournament for the past 10 consecutive seasons but have advanced beyond the Sweet 16 just once -- two years ago when they lost to Villanova in a buzzer-beating heart breaker during the Elite Eight. … Biedenbach’s basketball history is in North Carolina (he was the player of the decade at N.C. State for the 1960s) but his roots are in Pittsburgh. The steel city native grew up there, delivered the Pittsburgh Post Gazette as a kid, and annually cut school to sneak into Pittsburgh Pirates’ games and watch Roberto Clemente play. Only the pull of Press Maravich, an Aliquippa native and then head coach at N.C. State, lured him away.