INDIANAPOLIS -- Remember the Butler Bulldogs who ruined your bracket last year -- the David that nearly slayed a Goliath? Well, they're back.
After his 45-footer careened off the backboard, nearly beating Duke in the national title game, Butler's sensational sophomore Gordon Hayward took his talents to Salt Lake. And although Butler lost arguably the greatest player in school history to the NBA, the Bulldogs returned 11 players who contributed in the magical run to the Final Four.
Head coach Brad Stevens has led Butler to the school's second consecutive Sweet 16 appearance and third in the past five years but this year's road to the NCAA tournament was an unconventional one for Butler.
The Bulldogs lost to Horizon League bottom-dweller Youngstown State Feb. 3, dropping to 14-9 on the season and 6-5 in league play. Since then, Butler has won eleven straight games, including an upset of No. 1 seed Pittsburgh last week.
"We had a lot of pressure on us in February because every game we played, we were one loss from being out of tournament consideration," Stevens said. "Our guys have played with a one-and-done mindset for 11 or 12 games now."
Butler's mentality will be no different tonight when it takes on fourth-seeded Wisconsin in the southeast regional semifinal.
Despite knocking off the region's top seed, Pittsburgh, overcoming Wisconsin's size and versatility will not be an easy task for the Bulldogs.
Of the seven Badgers who receive significant playing time, five are at least 6 foot, 6 inches tall and shot a collective 39 percent from beyond the arc during the regular season.
Senior forward Jon Leuer led Wisconsin this season by averaging nearly 19 points a game. He also hoisted 140 threes, second on the team behind junior guard Jordan Taylor, and knocked down 53 of those attempts.
Leuer will likely be guarded by a player with a very similar skill set, Butler senior forward Matt Howard. Howard, Butler's third all-time leading scorer, finished third in the Horizon League in 3-point percentage, shooting 43 percent on 111 attempts. In his first three seasons, Howard had only attempted 20 total treys.
"Andrew Smith has emerged as a very solid post player for us," Howard said. "His presence down low has allowed me to play more on the perimeter and take less of a beating in the post. I feel as good as I ever have at this point in the season."
Smith, who committed the most total fouls of any Butler player this year, will need to stay out of foul trouble in order for Howard to face up on the perimeter. Smith and Howard will have to overcome Leuer and the Badger's towering frontcourt to win the battle of the boards, an area in which the Bulldogs have made a priority so far in the tournament.
Butler junior guard Ronald Nored will be given the assignment of containing Jordan Taylor, a consensus first-team All Big Ten selection.
Taylor, who averaged 18 points a game on 44 percent shooting this season, leads a talented Wisconsin backcourt that committed the fewest turnovers per game in the nation. The Badgers also had the second most efficient offense in the country, behind Big Ten regular season and tournament champion Ohio State.
Junior guard Shelvin Mack scored 30 points, a Butler tournament record, in the Bulldogs win over Pittsburgh. Mack said he isn't worried about how Butler will match up against the Badgers' blistering hot backcourt.
"I think we're one of the best backcourts in the nation," Mack said. "I have a lot of confidence in myself, Zach (Hahn), Ron and Shawn (Vanzant)."
Less than a year after taking Duke to the wire in the national championship game, Howard and his teammates find themselves just two victories away from another Final Four berth.
"We know Wisconsin is an unbelievably talented team," Howard said. "They were seeded what they were for a reason."
However, Howard also realizes that anything can happen during the month of March.
"We've done it before," Howard said. "We can do this."