Butler Preview Against Youngstown State

On Saturday, December 9th, the Youngstown State Penguins visit the Butler Bulldogs in a throwback match-up from the Horizon League.  The Bulldogs own a 21-3 advantage in the series and have a perfect record at home.  Youngstown State’s last win came 2011, a 62-60 decision.  That was Butler’s last loss until they were defeated by Connecticut in the National Championship.

Youngstown State is seeking it’s first win on the road this season under first year head coach, Jerrod Calhoun.  The Penguins have struggled this year with only two wins, both over teams that are not affiliated with Division I basketball.  In fact, according to kenpom.com, the Penguins aren’t favored to win a game until the play Detroit on February 16th of next year, a 51% chance of winning that game.

Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Youngstown does not strut a lot of height on the floor, an advantage that Joey Brunk, Nate Fowler, and Tyler Wideman need to capitalize on.

A few players to watch from Youngstown include Senior Cameron Morse.  He has scored over 1500 points.  Sophomore Braun Hartfield has the ability to score in bunches, putting up 33 points in an earlier game this season.

With Butler, winner of their past four games, finding a rhythm on offense to go with their somewhat disciplined defense, will we see continued growth with ball movement?  In their last two games, the Bulldogs have 26 assists on 56 made field goals.  In their two losses and their poor outing against Ohio State that still resulted in a win, the Bulldogs had 25 assists on 67 made field goals.  Butler appears to be evolving in it’s understanding of where their strengths and weaknesses lay depending on the personnel on the floor.

Senior Kelan Martin passed Bobby Plump for 15th all-time on for career points scored at Butler.  Joey Brunk was granted a red-shirt and reclassified to freshman status for eligibility.  Sean McDermott is expected to miss 4-5 more weeks due to an ankle sprain he sustained while playing out in Portland in the PK80 tournament.

For the Bulldogs to win, they will have to use their size to their advantage, continue to move the ball, and not become complacent on either end of the ball.  If their shooting goes cold, Bulldog fans could be in for a long day.

Winner:  Butler

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Butler Preview Against Utah

This evening’s late tip-off for the Butler Bulldogs will give insight as to how the team has grown since the beginning of the regular season.  Over the course of the first eight games, the Bulldogs have shown flashes of great basketball IQ and, unfortunately, more than frequent looks of stagnant ball movement, and looks of confusion.  In their most recent outing against the St. Louis Billikens, Butler looked like a different team.  Their passes were crisp, there was an intensity that had yet to be seen for a full forty minute game.  They had some help though.  The Billikens were without four of their players which drastically changes the identity of a team.  Last Saturday’s result has to help build confidence for the Bulldogs though, which faces a tough Utah team tonight.

Last year, the Bulldogs visited Utah in late November and came away with a win over the Utes, 68-59.  There is a new identity to both teams after they’ve seen players transition away from both programs.  So why is this game so important?  When you have the opportunity to play against an opponent from a power conference, it has rippling effects.  Although Utah is unranked at the moment, they have multiple opportunities to play great teams in their conference.  If they are able to win games against those strong teams (hopefully Oregon and Arizona step up, but definitely include Arizona State), there is a tangential effect that will help build Butler’s resume.

Utah comes to Hinkle having earned a 6-1 record to this point in the season.  Their lone loss was a 27 point drubbing to UNLV.  We can expect the Utes to play as deep as 9 players, with 6 players averaging between 8 to 14.9 points per game.  Utah possesses a staunch perimeter defense, allowing opponents less than 25% of makes on 3’s taken.  However, the Utes are only averaging just over 6 steals a game, a number that implies Butler may be able to move the ball around.  Expect Utah to run a mostly man defense this evening.  Utah and Butler resemble each other in their play this year in a number of ways.

Both teams struggle to shoot consistently from behind the three point line.  I think this game comes down to rebounds and second chance points.  With both teams shooting poorly beyond the three point line, clearing out and boxing out will be a large influence in the final score.

Where does Butler find an advantage elsewhere though?  Look for the Bulldogs to attempt to continue their success sharing the ball.  With Utah’s low rate of creating turnovers (about 10% of the time when they are on defense), Butler will need to play selflessly to create space for easy baskets.  Because Utah plays great defense around the arc, there should be cutting lanes that develop later in the shot clock.  Patience will be a factor for Butler as they run their offense.

With the preseason conversation focused on the pace of how the Bulldogs intended to play, we’ve only seem brief moments of an uptempo team.  According the kenpom.com, Butler ranks 279th out of 351 Division I teams averaging 68 possessions per game.  That implies the Bulldogs hold onto the ball much longer than most teams, which is true.  They average a shot between 17-18 seconds into the 30 second shot-clock countdown.  From the games I’ve watched this season, Butler has looked lost or stagnant on offense.  Usually, if the pass isn’t available to the big down on the block or in the lane when they initially start their offense, the big will come to set a screen for the ball handler.  The big rolls to the basket and the ball handler ends up dribbling on the wing for 3-5 seconds while everyone else is standing, watching on the wings.  Eventually, after a few passes, and little net movement of the ball, someone ends up with the responsibility of needing to make a play, usually Kelan Martin, Kamar Baldwin, or Aaron Thompson.  In the last game, Butler shared the ball well, earning 15 assists on 26 made shots.  If they want to see continued success, they will need to be decisive with their passes and confident in their shot selection.

Things to watch:

Utah’s height-  David Collette is an effective 6-10 senior that will play about 20-25 minutes today.  He’s a transfer from Utah State that has played well early this season.  Butler will have to play strong against him and force him into awkward shots or passing to have a chance to win.  Jayce Johnson is a 7-0 sophomore that plays in place when Collette is on the bench.  Butler’s deficiency in playing against height is still a work-in-progress.  I’m curious to see what coach LaVall Jordan draws up for match-ups.  The fun thing about basketball games is that they are always changing.  Fouls adjust the personnel on the floor.  If someone is having a game where their shot isn’t falling, they can play a role as a ball distributor.

Possible deep threat – The only real deep threat from beyond the three-point line is 6-6 senior Gabe Bealer.  On the season, he’s shot 16-28 from beyond the arc.  Other players from Utah that have the ability to shoot from three are seniors Tyler Rawson and Justin Bibbins.  Both men have made 11 three points apiece to this point in the season.  If Paul Jorgenson shoots well tonight, he’ll help fill the loss of Sean McDermott’s shooting.  Paul is capable of hitting a few consecutive three-points that can sway the game in a major way.

Win Streak- Last year, Butler ended Utah’s then 32 consecutive non-league home wins.  Entering tonight’s game, Butler sits 3rd in the nation with 39 consecutive non-league home wins.

I believe this will be a close game throughout regulation.  The home court advantage with the crowd will help Butler.  If Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin are on, it will be tough to beat the Bulldogs.  I have liked seeing Joey Brunk and Nate Fowler being utilized more frequently in games.  One thing that still gets me is the lack of ability for Butler to score on plays where they are inbounding the ball.  Brad Stevens and Chris Holtmann have it figured out.  You always need to have a play that can get you two points off of an inbound.

Winner tonight: Butler

2017 – 2018 Season Preview and November Update

It’s a few weeks overdue, but the season is still young.  I won’t edit the 2000 words I had written up.  Unfortunately, I got busy and had to delay the publishing of this write up.  Everything you read below was written before the first game tipped off this season.

It’s so exciting to be previewing college basketball this season!  After a long break from covering the sport, it’s nice to be writing about my favorite sport.  A few events ushered college basketball fans to change the preview of the season because of what has been revealed about a few high-level programs.  I won’t go into much detail in this post, but will refer to those events and the influence it has on a few programs in a later post.

I will continue to share the fastest and slowest games of the week or month, oddities of the game, and trends that are revealed over the course of the season by way of statistical evaluation.  That will be shown through examples of college basketball as a whole, or in smaller sample sizes.

Favorites to Cut Down the Nets

It seems like the usual suspects make this list.

Michigan State – Tom Izzo did not know his forward, Miles Bridges, was returning for a sophomore campaign.  Loading talent with a roster returning from a tournament team last season, Sparty has the make of a team that can make a deep run.  Here’s the catch.  Last season was the first time I can remember where the Spartans were in jeopardy of making it to the NCAA tournament.  They finished surprisingly at 20-15.

Duke – Surprise? HA! Well, actually, yes.  This may come as a surprise because they will not be so star-studded this season.  Of course, with Coach K at the helm, and his first legitimate point guard, Trevon Duval, in three years, excitement is brewing to see how far this team can traverse during the month of March.

Kansas – Set for another run at the top of the Big 12, the Jayhawks look primed for a deep run into the tournament.  If recent history is any tell though, they may have a difficult time making it to the second weekend.

Dark Horses to Challenge Contenders

Minnesota – One of the nice surprises last season was the resurgence of the Golden Gophers.  After a solid non-conference last season (albeit a cakewalk for most of it), Minnesota began the Big 10 conference with a 3-1 record, the only blemish coming to Michigan State in a 1 point overtime loss.  They seemed to fall apart with five straight losses and, halfway through the conference season, were 3-6.  Things seemed to click and they ended the season on a 8-1 record and won their first game against Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament.  I think Minnesota is a top 4 Big 10 team this year and can make some noise in the NCAA tournament.

Wichita State – The Shockers bring back everyone that made it to the NCAA tournament last season.  The heavily under-seeded Shockers lost in a Round of 32 match-up against Kentucky.  The transition to the American Athletic Conference already sees the Shockers as the favorite to win the regular season.  If seeded appropriately, this team has potential to be a 2 or 3 seed.

Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish has senior leadership and talent on their roster.  They possess qualities that resemble a team that has the opportunity to make a deep run.  They will have a possible meeting with Wichita State in an early season tournament before the Thanksgiving holiday.  They will also duel with Michigan State in the Big 10/ACC challenge.

Cinderellas

Saint Bonaventure – Picked second to finish behind heavily favored Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Bonnies bring back a core group that lose to Rhode Island in the A-10 Conference last season.  A team that won 20 games will be tough to handle, especially with VCU and Dayton falling off a bit. Remember the name Jaylen Adams.  The Bonnies go as he goes.

Northwestern – The Wildcats bring back a majority of the group that made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.  Aaron Falzon is a nice addition to help with the perimeter shooting.  Northwestern was close to beating Gonzaga.  If they get a favorable draw, they could easily find themselves in the second weekend.

Seton Hall – This team is dangerous.  Their core three, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, and Khadeen Carrington, will contribute each game with points and invaluable leadership.  Not to mention senior forward, Ismael Sanogo, and sophomore guard, Eron Gordon, this team has the look of one that can surprise people and make a deep run if things are clicking come tournament time.

Players to Watch

Michael Porter Jr. – Most may have not heard his name because this is his freshman season.  He is already projected as the #1 pick in the 2018 draft by numerous analysts.  So what’s the excitement about?  His 6-foot-10 build is something amazing considering how well he can handle the ball.

Bennie Boatwright – Averaged just over 15 points per game during the regular season.  His ability to step out and shoot from 3 point range is just one of tools he possesses as a 6-foot-10 Forward to stretch any opponent defense.

Mike Daum – I wrote about him last year as he looked to help lead South Dakota State back to the tournament.  He averaged just over 25 points per game last season and looks to continue to own a large portion of scoring responsibility this season.  In fact, Daum scored 51 points against the Fort Wayne Mastadons last season, the highest output by an individual last season.  He 25.1 points per game ranked 2nd, behind Marcus Keene’s 30 points per game.  Daum will be fun to watch this year.  Oh, did I mention he’s on pace to finish in the top 5 of the all time NCAA career scoring?  He’s currently ahead of Doug McDermott when comparing where Doug was and Daum is now.

Angel Delgado – Many analysts and fans are comparing Delgado to Caleb Swanigan, a comparison that I think is deserving heading into the season.  Delgado is joined by high-level players Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodreiguez.  With the style this team plays, they will score in bunches and Delgado has a legitimate opportunity each game to produce a double-double.

Kamar Baldwin – It is inevitable that a Butler player shows up on this list (because I watch each game).  Baldwin was impressive in his freshman season for the Bulldogs.  His role changes a bit after the departure of Coach Holtmann and the roster changes from departing seniors.  Just a flavor of what Baldwin is capable of, see the important play he made at the end of the game to seal the win for the Bulldogs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hicCp4CUNIQ

Coaching Changes of Note

Chris Holtmann – Holtmann departed Butler in June earlier this year.  He has a rebuilding project in front of him at Ohio State, taking over the head coaching responsibilities from another former Butler coach, Thad Matta.  I wonder if Butler has been thanked by these other schools…

LaVall Jordan – Jordan departs Wisconsin-Milwaukee after one season.  He inherits a unique situation in that he played and coached at Butler.  This is a team that lost a lot of senior leadership, yet still has great talent with the youth that was recruited.  I’m curious to see how the system he wants to implement applies with the players on the roster.  Change is difficult and it will be telling early on how this team will fare this season.

Archie Miller – Out goes Tom Crean (probably 3 or 4 years too late) and in steps Miller with a fine track record to boast.  Indiana looks like it is going to experience a down year, which is relative because in these years, IU seems to play really well with high caliber teams, and then lose a couple cakewalk games.  Miller will have the Hoosiers in a rhythm eventually though.

Patrick Ewing – John Thompson III’s time at Georgetown is over and in to take over is Ewing.  It’s no question the guy could play, but how well will he be able to coach the Hoyas?  I think going into the season with low expectations will allow for pleasant surprises this season.

Brad Underwood – In a surprising move, Underwood left Oklahoma State after only one year to take over at Illinois, a job in which John Groce had recruited a top-15 class.  Underwood had an odd time in the Big 12 conference, but ended up having a nice season come together.  It will be interesting to see how his season pans out in the Big 10.

Brian Gregory – 13 years as a head coach at Dayton and Georgia Tech helped Gregory land a coaching job at South Florida.  After being fired in 2016, he spent one year being a special assistant to Tom Izzo.

Pat Kelsey – You don’t hear about this too often.  After being lured away to become the coach at Massachusetts, Kelsey went back to Winthrop.  So odd.

Early Season Tournaments and Other Things to Look Forward to

It’s been discussed more frequently in the past few years that for teams in the power conferences to fill a slate of home games, they need to bring in teams that typically have no chance at winning the game once they agree to visit the host school.  That’s why we see match-ups like West Virginia vs. Morgan State, Duke vs. Southern, or Baylor vs. Alcorn State.  The argument from most college basketball fans is that this is not good for the game.  I agree with that argument because those games lack excitement barring the crowd-wowing alley-oop.  As much as we may not like when our team is in a battle throughout the entirety of a game, it makes it that much more memorable.  As far as potentially great games early in the season, we can look no further than the early season tournaments.

Notre Dame vs. Wichita State (Maui Invitational) – I don’t think the Shockers possess as much of the consistency as we are led to believe.  Mike Brey tends to be successful in these scenarios so I’ll go with Notre Dame in this one.

Michigan State vs. North Carolina (PK80) – Well, when you turn 80 years old, you go watch a lot of college basketball as a gift, yeah?  We have the possible match-up of Sparty vs. the TarHeels.  Both teams are equitable on offense, but Sparty has a better defense coming into this season.  I’m going with Michigan State here.

Duke vs. Florida (PK80) – The Florida offense loves to move the ball quickly.  Their high point totals are a product of such movement.  Duke’s challenge will be defense.  If they get in a tough bind or dig too large of deficit for themselves, Florida can pick them off and snag a resume building win.  I’m going with the Gators.

Arizona vs. Villanova – Nova is going to Nova.  Jay Wright has found a groove for what type of player works in his system.  It’s evidence by his domination of the Big East since the conference was realigned.  Oh, and he won a National Championship a couple years ago.  Arizona has all the hype heading into the season, but I feel the negative attention from the FBI probe may be a significant distraction.  I’m going with Villanova in this matchup.

There’s another match-up that I don’t anticipate the teams playing for the tournament championship, but does pose an interesting story line.  As fate would have it, Butler and Ohio State are in the same bracket in the PK80 tournament in Portland, Oregon.  Chris Holtmann is the current coach at Ohio State and formerly the head coach at Butler.  When he left Butler, he brought along the supporting coaching staff.  That crew would be pitted against the players they coached and recruited to Butler.  It’d be an interesting game because the veterans know the system that Holtmann runs and Holtmann knows the tendencies of his former players.  I doubt either side shares ill will toward the other.

Here is my perspective on what happened now that some time has passed:

It’s a difficult decision to make and one that warrants grace and understanding once a choice has been made.  Of course it’s difficult to swallow when a successful coach departs a school’s team that you have an affinity for.  Criticizing a person’s choice from the sidelines is easy because we aren’t part of the process.  As far as human nature goes, it’s easy to judge another based on their choice.  We can’t control people though, and in a way, that’s a beautiful relief from us.  I’m hopeful both programs are successful with their new changes.  Of course it makes it difficult to root for Ohio State because I’ve never enjoyed watching them play, but knowing Holtmann is on the sideline with the rest of the former Butler coaches makes it ever-so-slightly easier to watch a game of theirs every once in a while.

Top 25 and 5

1.Michigan State

2. Duke

3. Arizona

4. Kansas

5. Duke

6. Wichita State

7. Kentucky

8. Villanova

9. Florida

10. Virginia

11. West Virginia

12. USC

13. North Carolina

14. Cincinnati

15. Northwestern

16. Miami

17. Minnesota

18. UCLA

19. Seton Hall

20. Purdue

21. Louisville

22. Notre Dame

23. Saint Mary’s

24. Gonzaga

25. Alabama

26. Rhode Island

27. Texas A&M

28. Missouri

29. TCU

30. Texas