ROCK HILL, S.C. — Butler University will never draw a bigger roar in the Winthrop Coliseum.
The Big East’s Bulldogs (23-8) were announced Sunday evening as the Eagles’ first-round NCAA tournament foe, as the Selection Sunday crowd drowned out CBS’ commentary as soon as Winthrop’s name appeared on the screens inside the arena.
Thirteenth-seeded Winthrop (26-6), the regular-season and Big South tournament champion, will face a team led by a coach who is familiar with the school, as well as its leader. Butler coach Chris Holtmann led fellow Big South school Gardner-Webb from 2010-2013. His Runnin’ Bulldogs split the two games they played against Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey’s Eagles in the 2012-13 campaign, Kelsey’s first year in Rock Hill. That familiarity may prove to be a good and bad thing for Kelsey.
“Chris is a friend of mine. I actually drove up to Indianapolis this summer and spent a whole day with him, just (talking) Xs and Os,” said Kelsey. “He’s a really good coach and a good person, and Butler’s one of the premier programs in the whole country, with a tradition, especially in the last decade, that’s second to none.”
Holtmann echoed much the same in remarks to CNHI Sports Indiana Sunday evening.
“They are really well-coached, they have an outstanding guard (Keon Johnson) and outstanding interior, versatile forward (Xavier Cooks),” said Holtmann. “They have played at a really high level dating back 10-15 years. It is a championship program and it is going to be a great challenge.”
Winthrop guard/forward Rod Perkins was among the Eagles already quite familiar with his school’s opponent shortly after the announcement was made. “I know they’ve been to the Final Four plenty of times, especially when (current Utah Jazz forward) Gordon Hayward was there,” said Perkins. “We know they’re going to come out and play hard and be aggressive. We’re going to have to be on our ‘A’ game, most definitely.”
The trip will be somewhat of a homecoming for Winthrop guards Anders and Bjorn Broman. The Eagle backcourt mates are natives of Duluth, Minnesota, a six-hour drive from Milwaukee’s Bradley Center. “I’m pretty sure all of Duluth went nuts (when the announcement was made),” said Bjorn Broman after the announcement. “I hope a lot of fans come out. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The assembled crowd had a bit of a wait Sunday, as Winthrop’s destination was revealed in the third of four announced brackets. The wait was at least slightly agonizing for Kelsey at times, but he and his side were immediately ready to go to work. “To see our name pop up is a really special feeling. It’s something that I’ve told our guys for the last several years is worth the wait, and worth all the hard work,” said Kelsey. “I think they would probably agree with me that seeing that moment, experiencing that moment, was something really special.”
Winthrop and fourth-seeded Butler will lead off Thursday’s slate of games in Milwaukee. Their game is slated to begin at 1:30 p.m. (Eastern), and will be carried on TNT.
Thursday Game Times and Networks (all times Eastern)
Notre Dame vs. Princeton, 12:15, CBS
Virginia vs. UNC Wilmington, 12:40, truTV
Butler vs. Winthrop, 1:30, TNT
Gonzaga vs. South Dakota State, 2:00, TBS
West Virginia vs. Bucknell, 2:45 (approx.), CBS
Florida vs. East Tennessee State, 3:10 (approx.), truTV
Minnesota vs. Middle Tennessee, 4:00 (approx.), TNT
Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt, 4:30 (approx.), TBS
Maryland vs. Xavier, 6:50, TNT
Villanova vs. Mt. St. Mary’s/New Orleans, 7:10, CBS
St. Mary’s vs. VCU, 7:20, TBS
Purdue vs. Vermont, 7:27, truTV
Florida State vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 9:20 (approx.), TNT
Wisconsin vs. Virginia Tech, 9:40 (approx.), CBS
Arizona vs. North Dakota, 9:50 (approx.), TBS
Iowa State vs. Nevada, 9:57 (approx.), truTV