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
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.
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.