The Bulldogs are further along in rebuilding its program than some may think.
The Butler Bulldogs have had their share of success, and came very close to a national championship in 2010 and 2011. Since then, the Bulldogs haven’t been nearly as successful, getting eliminated from the NCAA tournament in the second round for the past two years. After head coach Brad Stevens left for the Boston Celtics in 2013, the team took a turn, winning just four games during the 2013-2014 season.
With a reloaded roster, however, this season could be different. Despite some referring to this season as a “rebuilding year,” the Bulldogs have given themselves a chance of not only making the tournament, but also making a deep run. The team is ranked 18th in the latest AP poll.
Butler started the season undefeated, which included a big 69-65 win over eighth-ranked Arizona on Nov. 25. This is now Butler’s third straight season with a win over a Top 10 team.
The Bulldogs were led by junior Kelan Martin, who recorded 16 points in the victory. Fellow junior Tyler Lewis finished with six assists, while Tyler Wideman crashed the boards for eight rebounds. Avery Woodson, who is a graduate transfer from the University of Memphis, contributed 13 points, while freshman Kamar Baldwin put up 11 points with two steals off the bench. This game exemplifies how well the Bulldogs play as a team, relying on both starting and bench players.
Defensively, Butler held the Wildcats to shooting 27.3% from behind the 3-point arc. The Bulldogs have found success smoothly transitioning from from man-to-man to zone defense depending on their opponent. When playing Northwestern, Butler utilized a zone defense, forcing those Wildcats to attempt 20 shots from outside.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrCIH9tThP8
But with Cincinnati, a much taller team, the Bulldogs played man-to-man limiting the Bearcats to shooting 40% from the field and 23.1% from the perimeter. Butler ended up with a 75-65 win against then No. 17-ranked Cincinnati. Baldwin got his first start of the season, scoring eight points, while Martin came off the bench and notched 20 points.
Butler has a knack for defending shots along the perimeter, holding teams to 31.3% from 3-point land in addition to forcing 15.7 turnovers and 6.4 steals per game. Baldwin has been a critical piece to the system with a 6% steal rate, fourth in the country, and 22 total steals. While Baldwin leads the Bulldogs in steals, Wideman, a 6’8 forward, guards the paint and has a team-high seven blocks.
Wideman gets help in the frontcourt from Martin and Andrew Chrabascz, who are both 6’7, as the trio have combined for 370 points and 154 rebounds over the team’s first 10 games. Martin’s shooting isn’t as accurate as last year, but he is finding other ways to contribute. By playing physical ball in the post, Martin is drawing 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes while only getting 2.9 fouls per 40 called on him.
Freshman big Joey Brunk is slowly but surely being added into the Bulldogs’ post rotation. He’s played 49 minutes, contributing 22 points and seven rebounds. Martin and Chrabascz get the majority of the frontcourt minutes, but as he develops and is more utilized, Brunk can work his way into the rotation. Despite Butler not having as much height as other teams with only two players 6’10 or taller, the Bulldogs still manage to outrebound opponents, 31.8-30.7.
A lack of height doesn’t deter the team from penetrating inside, either, averaging 30.3 points in the paint. Butler is also 26th in the nation in 2-point shooting (55.8%). And when unable to get inside, the Bulldogs have had success from outside as well. While its defense is holding opponents to a low 3-point shooting percentage, Butler boasts 38.7% shooting from 3-point land.
Butler additionally benefits from having a quality group of guards. Not only is Baldwin a defensive plus for the team, but he also averages 8.7 points in 21.7 minutes. Lewis, who transferred to Butler from North Carolina State in 2014, has started all 10 games and has shown the ability to assess the floor effectively. As he did at NC State, Lewis continues to be a good passer, leading the Bulldogs in assists with 5.2.
Lewis’ main contribution is assists, but he’s also able to put up points for Butler. Despite only averaging 8.7 points in 25.2 minutes, the redshirt senior guard has made 30-of-48 shots for 62.5% on the floor, including 9-of-19 shots from 3-point range (47.4%).
So far, the only team that has been able to leash the Bulldogs this season was Indiana State. The Sycamores outrebounded the Bulldogs, 37-29, and had 13 second chance points. Indiana State played at a quicker pace than Butler and limited the Bulldogs to only four fastbreak points. Much like Butler, Indiana State is a smaller team with some speed. As a result, the Sycamores often caught the Bulldogs off guard with quick ball movement. The team also had the most success out of Butler’s opponents from the 3, marking a 45.5 shooting percentage.
With only one loss so far, Butler is off to a good start. But the team will find out just how good it can be on Saturday. The Bulldogs face off against No. 9 Indiana in Indianapolis. The 8-1 Hoosiers defeated the mighty UNC Tar Heels but have an uncharacteristic loss to Fort Wayne, so Butler is hoping to add on to Indiana’s woes against in-state foes.
Butler’s 9-1 start to the season and win over a Top 10 opponent could spell out good things for the team later on in the season. The Bulldogs have utilized a strong defense and scored effectively in the paint to pull out close wins over opponents like Arizona and Northwestern. They even have shown resilience by bouncing back from their first loss of the season with a win over yet another Top 25 team in Cincinnati. The Butler of old may not be back fully, but there’s promise for it in the near future.
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