Brandon Miller

Brandon Miller era at Butler set to begin in the ‘Land Down Under’

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It’s been an eventful offseason for the Butler men’s basketball program. In addition to saying goodbye to four seniors, including leading scorers Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith, the program also saw head coach Brad Stevens leave to take over the same position with the Boston Celtics.

Into his role slides Brandon Miller, who joined Stevens’ staff as an assistant in April (replacing Matthew Graves, who’s now the head coach at South Alabama). And there’s also the small matter of moving from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East.

Taking all of the changes into consideration, this makes for a good offseason for the program to take advantage of the NCAA rule allowing programs to take one offseason trip every four years.

On Saturday the Bulldog travel party will leave Indianapolis for Australia, where they’ll play four exhibition games over the course of 11 days.

That leaves a lot of time for the team, which includes six freshmen (and just two seniors), to not only take in the sights that Australia has to offer but also build stronger relationships according to Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star.

“Teammates get to see each other outside of basketball,” Miller said after practice at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Thursday evening. “You’re with everybody the entire trip. They get to see coaches outside of basketball. This is a team building trip, and a trip these guys will remember forever.”

The last time Butler went overseas was just before the start of the 2009-10 season, when that group visited Italy. The hope for this season’s team is that their trip will have a similar effect, as the 2009-10 Bulldogs went on to win 33 games and were mere centimeters away from winning a national title.

Duplicating that feat will be tough however, given not only the production lost from last season’s team but also the program’s new surroundings.

Butler’s schedule now includes programs such as Creighton, Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova and Xavier (obviously they’re familiar with the Musketeers since they were also in the A-10 last season), and Providence and St. John’s should be formidable as well.

But few had that 2009 reaching the national title game, and this current group doesn’t lack for talent thanks to the return of key contributors such as Roosevelt Jones (10.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.5 apg), Khyle Marshall (9.6, 4.5) and Kellen Dunham (9.5, 2.8).

Add to that mix a talented crop of freshmen that includes Nolan Berry, Elijah Brown, Rene Castro and Andrew Chrabascz and coach Miller has some solid pieces to work with in 2013-14. How good can Butler be? They’ll take the first step towards finding out when they board the plane on Saturday.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.