Butler is 11-9 overall, but sits at the bottom of the conference with a 1-7 record. Over the weekend, they hosted St. John’s an equally bad team. The Bulldogs ended up getting smacked around and losing by 17. In Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Two things have contributed to this disappointing season. First is the loss of Roosevelt Jones which left the team without its best scoring option from last season. The second is of course Brad Stevens leaving for the NBA.
Brandon Miller has done a fine job as head coach, but he’s basically in a no-win situation. Any coach would struggle with this team, even Stevens. The big difference is that a number of these close, overtime losses would have probably swung the other way with Stevens at the helm or with Jones running the offense.
Basically, Miller had to follow a legendary Butler coach, without his most proven returning player, and do it all while cranking up the competition by joining the Big East. And to make it more difficult, your leading scorers from last season graduated (Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith). Have fun with that, Brandon.
So, what’s left for the Bulldogs this season?
We know that Butler isn’t going to just give up and roll over. This team has become synonymous with effort and fight. They generally don’t get outworked by their opponents and this season isn’t exactly an exception.
What are the specific issues this team has struggled with? Here’s a list:
- Defense. That might be too broad. Consistent defense? Is that better? The Bulldogs are still above well average on this side of the ball. The problem is that its too easy to break them down. It seems like every game there is a new problem. It could be making switches, or post defense, or transition defense. They defend the perimeter well, but opponents shoot 50-percent inside the arc. They are also bad at forcing turnovers. Every game, some aspect of the defense fails, and the Bulldogs opponent exploits it mercilessly.
- Free Throws. Butler has been terrible at the line this season. The Bulldogs are shooting just 65-percent and to make matters worse, they don’t get to the line all that frequently. Butler is too easy to defend straight up and doesn’t have a slasher (like Jones) to draw fouls with any kind of regularity.
- Rebounding. 72-43. That’s the rebounding margin of the last two losses. How often do you hear that the Bulldogs are getting dominated on the glass? They have lost some height across the frontcourt this and don’t have a true center. Of the starters, Kameron Woods is the tallest at 6-9 and coincidently he leads the team in rebounding with 9.5 per game. Khyle Marshall (whose 6-6) is second on the team with 5.2, and his are mostly hustle boards. Often times it seems like Butler forgets the basics, like boxing out, or simply can’t hang onto the ball.
- Depth. Miller has been running an eight man rotation for the most part. Jackson Aldridge, Elijah Brown, and Andrew Chrabascz have been the main players coming in for relief minutes, especially in Big East games. Brown got off to a hot start in conference play, with back-to-back double digit games, but he’s had 17 points total over the past five games. Aldridge has basically just been in the games. He barely scores and does nothing else that shows on the stats sheets since Big East play started. Chrabascz is the only player to give them anything consistent off the bench lately. He’s averaged just a shade under five points per game this season, but that number jumped to eight per game in conference play and he’s showing up in other areas as well.
Tonight, the Bulldogs will be in Newark to face Seton Hall. The Pirates are 12-8 overall and 3-4 in the Big East. If there was a game where Butler could get its offense back on track, this is it. Seton Hall is very mediocre across the board on defense.
This game will have to be won on the defensive end for Butler. Seton Hall matches up very well with Butler as both rate about the same in terms of the Pirates offensive efficiency and Butler’s defensive efficiency. Butler needs to play better interior defense and not get into foul trouble as Seton Hall is very good at getting to the free throw line.
When two teams matchup well against each other, the edge has to go to the one with home court advantage. Couple that with Butler’s recent failings, Seton Hall has to be a solid favorite. The Bulldogs are not making the NCAA Tournament, but perhaps desperation can lead to some upset wins.
That said, I’m picking Seton Hall to send the Bulldogs home with a loss.