Butler Basketball 2018-2019 Season Preview – Part III

With a busier part of the year for work, I have not been able to look closely at the next few teams Butler will play in the next ten days.  I have had the time to look at Northern Illinois, however, and this could be a closer game than Bulldog fans may initially anticipate.

Northern Illinois, 2017-2018 Record: 13-19 ; series record Butler leads 5-3   Last meeting: February 2, 1997

Kenpom Ranking: 148

Background

The Huskies come into Hinkle Fieldhouse this afternoon toting an effective offense and lackluster defense.  As bad as Butler has been to start the season with perimeter defense, Northern Illinois has been worse, allowing their opponents nearly 40% from beyond the 3-point arc.  Opponents look like they are having their way inside too because the Huskies are allowing over 52% made on 2-point baskets one month into the season.  As poor as the Huskies are at defending the three pointer, their ability to score from beyond the arc is on the opposite end of the shooting spectrum.  Northern Illinois shoots nearly 42% from three, yet they don’t take many threes.

Players to watch

Northern Illinois touts a veteran team composed of mostly juniors and seniors.  Eugene German is the go-to guy that takes about one-third of the Huskies shots each game.  German does turn the ball over, about one in every five times he possess the ball.  Levi Bradley is another large contributor for Northern Illinois.  Bradley handles the ball well and he adds another dimension for the Huskies because of his ability to shoot the perimeter.  Currently, Bradley shoots above 50% from beyond the arc.  An interesting visit from the nation’s leading efficiency ranked player (according to Kenpom.com) in sophomore Rod Henry-Hayes will be a treat.  He is ranked so high because he has not turned the ball over and, to this point in the season, has made most of the three pointers he has taken.  In fact, Northern Illinois boasts three of the most efficient players in the nation.  German currently ranks eleventh for players who are used on at least 28% of possessions during a game.

Expected Outcome

Northern Illinois plays at a lethargic tempo, working their half-court offense a majority of their possessions.  German, when provided the opportunity, will take shots from beyond the arc.  Although the Huskies shoot threes at a successful clip, three-point baskets don’t make up a large portion of how they score.  Butler’s perimeter defense has improved over the past month, however that is in large part due to playing below average teams.  The Huskies have three players averaging double figures.  Eugene German leads Northern Illinois with 21.8 points per game.  In two of his last three games, he has scored 30 and 33 points.  Limiting German and Levi Bradley will be keys to Butler’s success.

In their most recent game, the Bulldogs outplayed Brown in the first half with what looked like an uptempo offense.  It seemed clear the message from the coaching staff was to speed the offense up and get shots off quicker in the shot clock.  By halftime, the Bulldogs had grown their lead 36-17.  A couple positives in the result were the seven turnovers and thirteen assists on twenty-four made baskets.  Keeping the number of turnovers in single-digits is a great sign of growth.  Hopefully the Bulldogs continue great play today against the visiting Huskies, a slightly more formidable opponent than Brown.  I have the Bulldogs winning at home 75-67.

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Butler Basketball 2018-2019 Season Preview – Part I

As the Butler Bulldogs prepare for the 2018-2019 season, I will be sharing information on their non-conference opponents.  The opponents Butler will play during the non-conference portion of the season will each be given background, a brief overview of players to watch, miscellaneous information, and then conclude with an educated guess on the outcome of the game.

In researching the teams, I find joy in exploring the details that I learn about different squads and how they arrived to their current state.  Expect between two to four opponents to be evaluated with each post before the regular season tip off for the Bulldogs on November 10!

I am excited about what lies ahead for the 2018-2019 college basketball season as a whole and for the Butler squad led by LaVall Jordan in his second year as head coach at Butler.  I attended the exhibition games the past two weekends and will briefly share a few takeaways.

First, as is custom to notice, veteran players look trimmer, especially rising sophomores with their appearance being drastically different.  Jerald Butler and Joey Brunk shed some pounds and it shows in their speed and overall athleticism.

Although it was an exhibition game against a Division II team that is coming off a 7-21 campaign last season, these games are important to see how a team meshes on the floor.  Junior, Kamar Baldwin, inherits a leadership role and will likely be a primary scorer night in and night out.  Sean McDermott looked great, hitting 3-4 from 3 point range (Butler was 8-25 for the game).

Butler had 19 assists and 5 turnovers, both promising numbers.  Something I was concerned about was stagnant play and lack of sharing the ball.  Although a small sample size, it is promising to see the Bulldogs assist on 19 of their 40 made baskets.  This will be a number to strive for as Butler begins their season.  Seeing the turnover number in single digits will generally indicate smart play.  There will be off nights, but to hope for and see these numbers is a great start for the Bulldogs.

In their second exhibition game against Southern Indiana, the Bulldogs struggled to find a flow early, which is good.  That may be an odd take for a fan, but to continue to grow, they need that experience going into the season.  After falling behind 11-2 early in the game, Butler methodically made their way back and ultimately topped the Screaming Eagles 79-58.  I will take the positive spin on this result in that the leading scorer for the game was Paul Jorgensen with 24 points.  Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott were a collective 4-18 from the floor.  Those numbers will not be sufficient especially when Big East conference play begins.  With a defense that needs more time to practice, Butler will need to have difficult situations in which they can learn from.  The Bulldogs defesnive shell was spread thin by ball movement and accurate 3-point shooting early against Southern Indiana.  I am confident Butler will develop and grow as a team.  There will be lessons to learn in the first two months of the season, but for now, the Bulldogs prepare for Miami of Ohio on November 10th.

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A quick note about the records against opponents:  I have found information regarding Butler’s record against their opponents on sports-reference.com.  The information provided goes back to the 1938-1939 season. The numbers will not be entirely accurate based on the history of results that occurred prior to that season.  I appreciate the database having great depth in the records they share publicly.  Thanks to Ken Pomeroy for another year with his ranking system he shares with college basketball fans.  The Kenpom Rating that is shared in this post is current when the post is shared.  Those numbers are malleable and will shift throughout the season.

Game 1: Miami Ohio  2017-2018 Record: 16-18; series record Butler leads 6-1 Last meeting: March 14, 2006, Butler 53 – Miami Ohio 52

Current Kenpom Rating: 183

Background

The Bulldogs tipoff the regular season against the Miami Ohio RedHawks, coached by Jack Owens.  After finishing last season in MAC East conference play at 8-10, Miami looks to improve in the 2018-2019 campaign.  Miami does not boast seniority on their roster.  With two redshirt seniors and one junior, a younger rotation of players can be expected to take the floor.

Players to Watch

Redhawks Sophomore guard, Nike Sibande, earned MAC Freshman of the Year awards to go along with All-MAC Honorable Mention and made the All-MAC Freshman team.  Sibande has connections with the Indianapolis area, calling the city home and having attended Crispus Attucks High School.  Sibande averaged 15.1 points per game over the season, scoring in double figures in 28 of the 34 games played.  He hit 77 three-point baskets, the third most in Miami history.  He is an expected starter in Butler’s home opener.

Abdoulaye Harouna is expected to provide on-court leadership for Miami as he comes off a redshirt season.  Something interesting about Harouna is that he was born in December 1992, making him quite an older college basketball player than most that take to the hardwood this season.

Miscellaneous Bits of Info

Benjamin Litteken, was a basketball manager last season for the RedHawks.

Expected Outcome

The result of this game should not be close.  My take is Butler shoots a high percentage from the field and wins by at least 20 points.  Butler continues to field a squad with the tallest players peaking at about 6’11” or 6’10”.  It’s worked in the past, but it forces their bigs to be quick and finish at the rim with a higher iq play frequently.  On defense, the bigs again need to be smart with positioning, but also quick to shift laterally, blocking an easy lane to the basket for the opponent.

Game 2 Detroit 2017-2018 Record: 8-24 ; series record Butler leads 42-26    Last meeting: February 4, 2012, Detroit 65 – Butler 61

Current Kenpom Rating: 333

At the end of last season, Detroit’s former head coach, Bacari Alexadner, had capped off a two year stint with a record of 16-47.  The abysmal result forced the Titans into finding a coach to turn the program around.  They did so in hiring Mike Davis, the former head coach of Texas Southern and Indiana.  Through the offseason, the roster changed and much is not expected from Davis’s first year as he hopes to build the Detroit program as he did at Texas Southern.

Players to Watch

Junior Cole Long played limited minutes last season, but is one of the few players that comes back to the rebuilt team.  He fills the stat sheet with hustle plays rather than points.

Senior guard, Josh McFolley, will be the go-to scorer for the Titans. He played in all 32 games last year and averaged 11.1 points.  He scored 20+ points in 4 games and 30+ points in 2 games last season.  His career high is 34 points against Wisconsin Green Bay.

Miscellaneous Bits of Info

Detroit’s outlook this season is bleak. According to Kenpom.com, the Titans are favored to win just one game.  Another handful of games are considered tossups.  That is due to the massive turnover of players.  It could be unfair to Detroit to say they are a weak team, but because they don’t have much playing experience together as a team with their coach, it is expected that the results of winning games won’t show themselves frequently this year.  Add to the mix 5 freshman and a number of transfers, this could turn into a season of overachieving or sitting in the cellar of the Horizon League.

Freshman Antoine Davis is the son of head coach Mike Davis.

Derrien King, a grad student, is playing for his fourth college basketball team after spending time at Santa Monica College, Washington State, Angelo State, and now Detroit.  He did not play a game while at Angelo State.

Expected Outcome

Just as in game one of the season, I expect Butler to use this game as another opportunity to get more minutes for younger guys once the lead has ballooned significantly.  I think the Bulldogs win by 20-30 points in this contest as they gear up for Ole Miss.

Game 3 Ole Miss 2017-2018 Record: 12-20; series record – will be first meeting.

Current Kenpom Rating: 94

Mississippi visits Hinkle Fieldhouse this November for the first time.  However, their new coach, Kermit Davis Jr., is no stranger to the Bulldogs.  He previously coached against Butler when he was the head coach of Middle Tennessee in the 2017 NCAA Tournament Round of 64.

Davis brings a different offensive and defensive system to the Rebels.  What once was a more run-and-gun offense will likely transition into advantageous cuts to the basket, a scheme that saw success for Davis at Middle Tennessee.  The last three years at Middle Tennessee, Davis’s teams trended toward the bottom in three pointers attempted on offense, attempting 33.6% of all shots as three-pointers last season.  The defense will likely have a different look as Davis employs a 1-3-1 zone frequently.

Players to Watch

Redshirt Junior Dominik Olejniczak will cause trouble for Butler.  He stands seven feet tall and can body up down on the low block as well as provide okay passing for teammates cutting to the basket.

Bruce Stevens, a junior, is tall, has shown he can shoot the ball well, but historically has been inconsistent.  Once rated the sixth best junior college basketball player by JUCOrecruiting.com, Stevens may provide an issue for the Bulldogs if he can hit the three ball.

Expected Outcome

Those different looks on defense will require Butler to adjust – something they have not historically been great at. Mississippi played four games abroad in Canada in August.  From what I gathered, players that were retained from last year’s team mentioned how the offense flows better and that it’s easier to get to the basket.  Butler will need to have solid communication and interior defense if they want to win this game.  I think it’s a much closer game than they had against their first two opponents of the season.  Butler 79-Ole Miss 71

Miscellaneous Bits of Info

Ole Miss will attempt to get back to the NCAA tournament this season after alternating in and out since the 2013 season.